If we…were asked to guess the kind of people Jesus would pick for special commendation, we might be tempted to guess one sort or another of spiritual hero….If so, we would be wrong…the ones he did pick out [are] those who spiritually speaking have absolutely nothing to give…like the Prodigal telling his father, ‘I am not worthy to be called thy son.’Frederick Buechner in Following the Call, page 18.
It’s not hard to understand why some people reject the Beatitudes, as well as the whole Sermon on the Mount, as absurd, extreme, and inhuman. Virginia Stem Owens got this reaction when she asked her freshmen English class to read a section from the Sermon on the Mount and comment on the rhetoric of the Sermon.
Those who were not raised on a diet of Biblical wisdom immediately understand the bone-jarring world that Jesus was proposing. His words are not watered-down and insipid like they so often are among those who take them for granted. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is an excellent case in point.
Popular thought places a high value on being in control, feeling self-confident and powerful, and loving the luxuries of this life. By contrast, Monika Hellwig, a Catholic theologian, composed a list of ten advantages of being poor. Among them were these five:
- The poor know they are in need of redemption.
- The poor know their dependence on God.
- The poor rest their security on people, not things.
- The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance.
- The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.
Jesus was able to say “blessed are the poor” because he knew that only such people are truly liberated from the idol of self-sufficiency and are able to receive the redemption which Jesus offers to the poor. This is why Jesus told Pharisees that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…”
Jesus knew that believing that one is self-sufficient is an antidote to accepting the redemption that Jesus offers. That is why the poor in spirit receive Jesus’ blessing.
Prayer: O God of the poor, alienated, sick, and helpless, we know that the thing you most want to do is to restore humanity to its first state of “being well.” But our gods of self-sufficiency, wealth, and hubris insulate us from you and what you could do for us. Please tear down our walls. Strip away the things in which we place idolatrous confidence. Help us to receive you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.