Beatitudes: the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

~Matthew 5:3

Jesus here is encouraging those who are poor, and not just any poor, but the poor in spirit. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Is it to be lacking the Holy Spirit? Is it to be weak in spirit? Is it to be troubled in spirit?

Poor in spirit — it’s an interesting phrase. It can be confusing to try and understand what this means, but I think separating the two words will help. Poor. Being poor means lacking something. It could mean lacking material things, though I don’t think Jesus meant this. It could also mean being weak, such as if I was a poor soccer player. This may be more what Jesus was after. Thinking about the kinds of people Jesus hung out with and sought, this seems more accurate. Spirit. This one can be more confusing, depending on how you look at it. Spirit usually is related to the heart or the will. This means that it is very connected to volition, or the will to do things. Volition involves both freedom and creativity. Our volition is how we organize our life — around God or not.

Putting these two words together, I see a beautiful picture of what Jesus probably had in mind. He wants those of us who are weak and cannot do it on our own (ALL of us!), those of us who are poor in the area of volition — we don’t do what we want to do and we do what we don’t want to do! — to come to Him. Once we recognize that we ARE indeed poor in spirit (everyone is, but most try to deny that they are), we are blessed, for it is then that we seek His purposes and His kingdom first. That is why Jesus says that the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven — because they submit their own will to Christ’s and do His work.

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