PASSAGE: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 5:13).
QUESTION: I have been reading and studying much in the last months, looking at the Bible with fresh eyes for meaning beyond what I was taught as a child. I came across this scripture reading this morning and saw that it had deeper meaning than I had thought of before. I have great respect for your interpretations and am interested in how your view this scripture. Thanks so much.
COMMENT: In the Sermon on the Mount, the author of the Gospel of Matthew brings together in one speech all the essential teachings of Jesus’ three-year ministry. The Sermon begins with this passage known as the Beatitudes, intended to shock and awaken his listeners into realizing that his message was going to be radically different from traditional religious teaching. The translators of the Jesus Seminar, in their book The Five Gospels, attempt to communicate this radical energy by changing the mild “Blessed are” to the more assertive “Congratulations to.” Congratulations to the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. All of those listening to Jesus were “poor in spirit,” feeling like religious rejects living unhappy lives with no real hope of “salvation.” Jesus makes the essential point that a sense of being “poor in spirit”—a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo—is a good thing; it’s essential for anyone about to set out on the great spiritual process that will bring the kingdom of heaven into expression through us. We won’t be motivated to move forward if we’re passively accepting of what already is.
The same is true throughout the Beatitudes. Each overturns the religious mindset that sees negative life experiences as punishment from God. They are wake up calls to get us moving on our spiritual purpose. We must mourn our lost sense of spiritual identity if we are ever to find it again. We must hunger and thirst after righteousness if we are to bring the experience of righteousness into being. We must begin to recognize the creative power of our own thoughts—thoughts of mercy create a merciful life experience, thoughts of peace create a peaceful world. We must, in short, stop seeing ourselves as victims—of either an angry God or an unfair world—and allow Jesus to teach us how to claim our true spiritual power.