Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sermon Cliff Note: Blissful Are the Poor

The Literal Sentence (from Matthew 5.3)

Privileged the beggars the spirit, because of them is the kingdom of the heavens.

Some alternatives:

Beggars make happy the spirit, for because of them is the kingdom of the heavens.

Beggars be happy in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

Beggars are blessed by the spirit . . .

Happy beggars to the spirit, because of them is the kingdom of the heavens.

Because of them is the kingdom of the heavens, [so] blessed [are] the beggars [for/by/with] the spirit.

My two suggestions:

(1) The beggars [among us] are blessed by the spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.


(2) Blessed, privileged the spirit of the poor ones, the beggars among us: because of them is the kingdom of the heavens.

It requires a bit of linguistic twisting, but the second one is where I land – I remain unconvinced that ‘poor in spirit’ is correct, thinking that the poor and the spirit are two separate things given the grammar, but I bow to the vast weight of scholarly consensus to adopt the idea that the spirit here is the spirit of the poor, but decline to agree that it’s ‘poor in spirit’ as opposed to the spirit of the poor.  There are problems both ways, but no one really has any idea what ‘poor in spirit’ means, so it makes sense to me to adopt the obvious solution: the blessing is for the poor, but it is a spiritual (rather than material) blessing of which Jesus speaks.

Either way, however, the question that begs to be asked by the clear language of the last part of the sentence is this: what if it’s that the kingdom of heaven has its existence among us precisely because of the poor?  What if the kingdom is the gift of the poor to all of humanity?  What if it’s not the poor in spirit who are blessed, but simply the poor and that what they receive is the spiritual blessing of knowing that because of them, the kingdom of heaven is at hand?

So imagine yourself driving to Staunton and coming to a stop at which stands a man with a sign begging for money.  You are Jesus sitting in the car, so instead of just sitting there and pretending not to see him or slipping him, somewhat guiltily, a little bit of cash, or even getting out and taking him with you for a meal or to find a job, you jump out of the car, unmindful of the blocked traffic, hug him, and declare what a great day this is that the two of you have met up, telling him as you hold him in your grasp, I am so glad I got to see you today!  You are such a blessing!  Thank you!  Thank you for bringing the kingdom of heaven with you!  Thank you for being here!  I’m headed into town – you want to come with me?  I want all my friends to meet you!  You have helped me so much today – you don’t even know.  Is there anything I can do for you?  What a lucky day that we met!  I can’t believe my good fortune!

So what if this is what God is actually thinking:

Oh how lucky you are, oh, the bliss God has in you and has in mind for you . . . you who are poor, who lack, who must beg for what you need . . . without you, there is no kingdom . . . you in all your need, make it possible . . . and your God is grateful for you . . .

You, who don’t know where you next meal might come from . . .

You, who have to beg the kids to call or visit . . .

You, whose family is ashamed to even admit they know you . . .

You, who don’t know what to do without the one you always counted on to be there . . .

You, exhausted by the demands of surviving . . .

You, who crack the door open for others to help and God to enter just by being here  . . .

You, who challenge the rest to change the world simply by your very existence . . .

You are the kingdom bringers, the God bearers, the very image of God in our midst . . .

And you are blessed. . . not your state . . . not your misery . . . not your poverty . . . but you.

The poor have much to teach.  And friends, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a lot to learn.



  1. The phrase can also be translated "the poor in the Spirit." I think this fits the context best. In Mt. 3, John the Baptist says the kingdom of heaven is near and the coming one (king) will baptize with the Spirit. When Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and the Spirit descends, anointing Jesus as the new king; the kingdom of (and from) the heavens has begun. In Mt. 4, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where he suffers hunger and temptations. Then Jesus begins to call disciples to leave their businesses and follow this poor Messiah. Thus Jesus begins to teach them in Mt. 5:3 by saying, "Blessed are the poor in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus is the first and foremost poor one in the Spirit; and in the future he will baptize his disciples with the Spirit.

    1. when we put Jesus as the first of the "poor in the Spirit", it makes sense. I still struggle with the grammar of the thing and trying to make sense of it all - especially if the poor (or poor in spirit) operate as a gateway for the kingdom itself. Good food for thought - thanks.