Text: Matthew 5:1-3; 19:13-18; Luke 4:16-21
Can you think of any way to equate ‘poor’ with being blessed? We talk about poor test grades or a poor attitude or a poor person. And while we might talk about upholding the dignity of a poor person, if we are honest we wouldn’t want to become a poor person.
And yet Jesus seemed to do just that when he said “Blessed are the poor….”
Yes, I know, it says “poor in spirit.” But is that even a good thing? Picture the high school pep rally – the team is there, the band is there, the cheerleaders are there. Are they looking for a crowd that’s poor in spirit? Not exactly.
Today we are going to look at the first of the beatitudes – the blessings – in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. Let me remind you of the context and the purpose of these. The context is that crowds have begun to gather around and follow Jesus. Here he has withdrawn up on a mountainside away from the crowds and his followers have sat down to hear him teach. They (and we who follow Jesus) are the students, but the crowd is the context. Jesus is saying, “I want to teach YOU about how God cares for THEM.” And this whole series of teachings is an application of God’s desire to bless us in order that we might be a blessing to the crowd – our neighbors, our community, and the world.
What Does Poor Even Mean Here?
Let’s start with the meaning of the word ‘poor’. As I mentioned before, it probably conjures certain things to your mind. But those aren’t necessarily the meaning here. The original context is probably Isaiah 61, since it was well-known to Jesus and he had read from it publicly to kick-off his ministry. He seems to be drawing from the language there in several of these beatitudes. In Isaiah 61, the sense is ‘afflicted’ – those upon whom difficulty has fallen. God would send one to proclaim Good News to them, and Jesus claimed to be that one!
Here in Matthew Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He is not describing someone without faith, but someone who is humble, not arrogant. (Perhaps he has the Pharisees in mind!) The one other time Jesus says “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (which is the blessing here), it is in reference to the children the disciples tried to send away. While he doesn’t use the word ‘poor’ to describe them, he certainly holds them up their simplicity and humility. They weren’t seeking influence or power.
But then there’s the version of this teaching recorded in Luke where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” Scripture teaches that we should care for the poor. In Psalm 112:9 the “God-fearing person gives freely to the poor.” And in Galatians 2:10 after the Jerusalem apostles approve Paul and Barnabas to take their ministry to the Gentiles, they advise, “also remember the poor.”
So who is blessed… those poor in spirit or those who are simply poor? Or it is the sense of dealing with some sort of affliction, as Isaiah said?
There are many times in scripture where a meaning is ambiguous, but it can’t mean both things. But here it seems to be all of the above. And what I’d suggest as the common thread is that in each of these variations of ‘poor’ what is blessed is not the condition itself, but looking to God as the source of help, hope, and good news. I say that because of the nature of the blessing.
Ok, So What’s the Blessing?
The blessing is not riches (if you are materially poor); it is not power if you are humble of spirit; it is perhaps comfort in affliction, but not always deliverance. The blessing here is “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
If you are poor, here’s how God has blessed you: you do not have to be rich, influential, or powerful to be part of God’s Kingdom. Remember the disciples arguing about who was greatest? Jesus was not having that and showed them that greatness was humility, serving one another. The blessing is that God invites people the world looks down on – that disciples might even shoo away – to be part of His work in the world. That’s what the Kingdom is: God’s work in the world.
Note that it is not the same as salvation, which is through Jesus Christ. The poor do not bypass Jesus. Rather they, who are often excluded, dismissed, or passed over, are invited into what God is doing.
If you wonder if that is a big deal, it is! If the thought of being a part of God’s work is either uninteresting to you or something you feel like you already deserve, then you have missed something critical.
But maybe you hear it – maybe you have been in that place of being overlooked, dismissed, or excluded. Jesus says, you are blessed because God has a place for you. And that’s a blessing he would have you share.
Last week I told you I would give a “blessing challenge” each week. So here is a reminder of what it is:
I challenge you to think of one way God says you are blessed. Maybe it’s the blessing we’ve looked at today; maybe it’s something else God has reminded you of. Receive it; accept it; welcome it; live it! Then I challenge you to spend the week looking for at least one opportunity to bless someone else with that same blessing.
If you need help identifying how God has blessed you, look again at today’s scripture lessons on the bulletin. Take it home with you!
And here’s a bonus challenge: I’d love to hear about it! They don’t have to be spectacular or life-changing; I imagine they will feel quite ordinary. E-mail me or call me and tell me what blessing you identified for yourself and how you shared it with someone else. I’d love to start sharing those stories (and can take your name out if that helps). Besides being a blessing to those around us that could be a huge encouragement to each other.
Some Music Used
- Prelude: All Who are Thirsty, O For a Thousand Tongues/One Great Love, Jesus Loves Me
- Come Ye Sinners (Indelible Grace)
- Blessed are the Ones (Assad)
- Benediction: The Blessing (Carnes, Jobe)