Matthew 5:3 (NIV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The beatitudes are not a listing of benchmarks that one needs to achieve in order to advance in the kingdom of God. They are simply Jesus’ way of helping His disciples to see that the ways of God’s kingdom are, in most ways, the exact opposite of the ways of the world.
The inversion of values and worldview is clearly seen in the qualifications for who is worthy to live in God’s kingdom. According to the ways of the world, those who are most exalted are those who are proud, and who have made a name for themselves; either born into positions of status and power, or who do amazing things to climb the ladder of success.
As far as the Jewish people, Saul of Tarsus was the poster child for this model. By zealous pursuit of the ideals and standards of Pharisaism, even to the point of persecuting the Church, he believed that he had earned God’s favor and blessing. But on the Damascus road, he quickly discovered that all of his striving had earned him nothing but God’s condemnation. In striving to ensure his own position in God’s kingdom, he had ended up disqualifying himself to even enter it.
Instead, it was and is the poor in spirit, the spiritually bankrupt, those who know that they have no ability to ever earn or deserve a place in God’s kingdom by their own righteousness who, paradoxically, will possess the kingdom. This inversion of the world order was behind Jesus’ shocking statement to the chief priests: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:31b) The Jewish leaders believed that they had a lock on the chief seats in the kingdom, so they saw no reason to repent. The tax collectors and prostitutes, though, knew that they were completely unworthy of God’s blessing, and when the opportunity presented itself, they repented immediately and found God’s favor, His forgiveness, and His grace.
Saul found this same thing when a clear vision of himself in the light of the resurrected Jesus showed him every sin, every hardened area of his heart, every shortcoming of his life. The vision dropped him to his knees in horror at who he really was. He suddenly realized that he was spiritually bankrupt, genuinely poor in spirit. All of his self-attained righteousness was seen for the filthy rags that it truly was. But from this humble and truly repentant state, he could finally be transformed into a genuine saint, who would live from that moment on in God’s kingdom.
Self-seeking humility and public demonstrations of penance are of no use in becoming poor in spirit. The Pharisees fasted twice a week to demonstrate their humility, and it didn’t make them humble, repentant, or poor in spirit at all. Only true humility, born of a clear, unvarnished look at one’s true heart, will lead to acknowledgement of one’s true spiritual poverty, and a place in God’s kingdom.
Father, we often try to figure out the key that will entitle us to a place in Your favor. But it is impossible for us to “work up” appropriate humility. It is clear that that can only come to those of us who are willing to put aside all pretentions, and simply allow You to show us our true hearts. Help us to see ourselves as You see us, and to truly repent and turn away from every spot of sin and darkness that You show us. Help us to approach You in the true humility and spiritual poverty that freely admits that “Apart from You, I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2), and so enter Your kingdom by Your grace. Amen.