Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3
Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus begins this beautiful sermon by talking about the poor? It was certainly the earthly life he knew: birth in a lowly stable; growing up as a carpenter’s son.
During his public ministry we learn that he had nowhere to rest his head, that he had no money to render unto Caesar, that those in his hometown thought him to be nothing remarkable. Perhaps that’s why he starts the Beatitudes in this way, for he knows the poor are children of the Lord and will see him in heaven.
As followers of Christ, we attempt to recognize him in the least of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the homeless, those discriminated against, the victims, those in prison. They don’t always smell good, and they’re not always grateful for our love and service. It can be hard to see Jesus in the mentally ill man who spits on us because rather than give him the five dollars he’s asked for, we offer to take him around the corner and buy him a meal.
But then, maybe it’s hard for that man to see Christ in us when we put conditions on assisting him. In blessing the poor, we get a tiny view of the kingdom of heaven in the way we are touched by that interaction.
But Jesus wasn’t just talking about physical or economic poverty. He was also talking about spiritual poverty, the only kind many of us in developed countries will ever know firsthand. Jesus knew that kind of poverty too. He showed it to us when he was on the cross. Jesus had let go of everything: his mother, his friends, his public ministry, his garments, his health, his dignity. He asked in that split second why God had forsaken him, and then he turned it over, saying it was finished and giving up the spirit.
We find our own spiritual poverty in many different ways: in humbling ourselves and working and living simply; in stripping ourselves of all the titles and possessions that give us pride; in finding the faith to set aside all the fears and paranoia that give us anxiety. For God to fill us up, we must first empty ourselves of all the stuff that stands between him and us. If we are strong enough to do that—to accept spiritual poverty, to understand that all we need is God and when we have God we have all we need—we begin to see the kingdom of heaven.