February 27, 2012: The Sixth Day of Lent

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” ~ Matthew 5.3 ~

What does it mean to be poor? This, the first of the Beatitudes, speaks of the state of the “poor in spirit.” When we think of the idea of “poor,” it comes easily to us to think of it in terms of poverty; lacking necessities, struggling to make ends meet. However, in the time of Christ, the idea of “poor” went one step further. Being “poor” meant that one had to rely on someone else for strength and sustenance. Without the assistance of others, the “poor” would perish. Not only that, but if a poor person had a benefactor that provided them aid, the benefactor could keep them accountable for their actions. In this passage, the ideas of assistance and accountability are joined with this concept of poverty.

What about the “in spirit” part? Dr. James B. Shelton states that “The ‘poor in spirit’ are those who realize that they are morally, spiritually, and even physically bankrupt without the grace of God.” (Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary, pg. 150) Sooner or later, each of us comes to a place where we are faced with the inescapable reality of our own brokenness. Our actions behind closed doors, our neglect of spiritual needs, and the frailty of our human bodies – sometimes, we find ourselves shocked at how very much in need we are. This is the human condition. Whether we admit it or not, we are in need – we are dependent.

So when Jesus calls the poor in spirit blessed and says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them, it fails to make much sense at first glance. It’s backwards! How can broken, frail humanity be blessed for its flaws? And how can a kingdom belong to such people?

The answer lies in the fact that spiritual dependency goes along with spiritual poverty. We are all in need of God’s grace. When we reconcile ourselves to this fact, we can then allow ourselves to fall into God’s hands and rest; in God’s hands, we find grace for our many shortcomings. He sustains us. He also holds us accountable – we cannot deny the grace of the King and enjoy the Kingdom.

Jesus says here that the Kingdom is made up of those who have embraced their own brokenness and insufficiency and allowed themselves to free-fall into the arms of grace, into the love, care, and service of the King who sustains them. Here is the blessing: the poor in spirit and the Kingdom of Heaven go together. You cannot have one without the other.

What are your support structures? How do you prop yourself up? Our culture tells us to “keep it together” while constantly encouraging us to ignore or hide the points of imperfection and need that we struggle with. This is not the way of Christ. He says that his kingdom belongs to those who can look their own insufficiency in the eye and then look to God alone to meet their needs and heal their wounds. Have you entered Christ’s kingdom in this way? We must remember that this will be a constant struggle for us – as many times as we are faced with our own brokenness, we should place ourselves anew in God’s love and grace.

Lord Christ, I confess that too many times I look away from you when I am in need. I rely on my own support structures and unhealthy habits when I should be running to you. Point out to me those things that I have adopted just to survive – things that have become cheap counterfeits of your grace. Lord, day in and day out, help me to live the reality of your kingdom. Help me to live in the blessing that is embracing my own brokenness and finding myself in your arms. Amen. 

*The commentary that I will be using during this study as my companion is Dr. James B. Shelton’s contribution on the Gospel of Matthew to The Life in the Spirit New Testament CommentaryEdited by French L. Arrington and Roger Stronstad. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.


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