Matthew 5:3 (New International Version)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is the first line of the “Beatitudes,” a section in Matthew’s gospel recording some of Jesus’ most famous teaching. Each of the verses in the Beatitudes begins with “blessed are,” followed immediately by a group of people we wouldn’t usually think of as “blessed.” We start today with “blessed are the poor in spirit.”
The word used here for poor is ptochos, which refers to a person who is completely dependent on other people for survival, as opposed to the Greek penes, meaning a person who has few possessions and who must work hard to support himself. A person who was ptochos was experiencing abject poverty.
But it isn’t really financial poverty that Jesus is talking about here. He tells the people: “blessed are the poor in spirit.” What does that mean?
During Jesus’ lifetime, people in Israel were subjects of the Roman Empire. Jerusalem, their holiest city, was inhabited by soldiers of the Empire, who could arrest and punish them without warning. The crowd Jesus was addressing would have well understood what it meant to feel defeated, to be broken— to be poor (ptochos) in spirit.
The New Living Translation of this verse is interesting: “God blessed those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.” Or from The Message paraphrase: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” Jesus reaches out to all people, but it’s when we know of our need that we are most willing to reach back out to him.
The Greek word for “blessed” is makarios. It is such a fascinating word! It doesn’t mean simply content or happy. It means “transcendent joy.” It is a joy that is not dependent on the situation in which we find ourselves. It is a joy that lifts us beyond our circumstances.
When we recognize our spiritual poverty— when we recognize our need of God’s grace and love— that is when the Kingdom of God is within our reach. Because we can’t reach the Kingdom by our own strength. We can only get there by holding God’s outstretched hand.
When have you felt blessed in spite of difficult circumstances?