It would be hard to imagine the poor feeling blessed. It is even more difficult to imagine the poor being happy about their condition. The word used by Matthew in the Beatitudes of Jesus which is translated “blessed” is actually the Greek word for “happy.” “Makarios,” that is “Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Luke, who also lifts up the teaching of Jesus with the Beatitudes, expresses this happiness only concerning the poor. Mathew takes it step further, he ads “in spirit.” With the addition of these two words, perhaps Matthew is reminding the people of God that there is really more to poverty than simply having little in the way of money or possessions.
As we read the beatitude concerning the poor (in spirit) it is so easy to focus on the deficiencies of others. Surely Jesus must have been speaking about people who are lacking in some way…right? Or could it be that Jesus also had a deeper, more profound teaching that we sometimes overlook? Can there be more to being “poor in spirit?” Perhaps being poor in spirit could also include those who, even as they have sufficient means, identify themselves with the neediest among us. Perhaps by being “poor in spirit” they align themselves with the community of the poor in order to help meet the needs of the impoverished.
With the election of Pope Francis, we certainly can see in him, someone who is happy to help meet the needs of the poor. As Pope Francis is ever mindful of the needs of the poor, he models the behavior for the Church of being “poor” in spirit. Rich and filled with the Spirit of God, the newly elected pope serves as a model of Christ like behavior regarding the poor. It isn’t a new concept for him, and neither is it a new concept for the Church as a whole.
Several years ago, I was blessed to pastor a congregation of God’s people who also modeled the behavior of Christ. My friends at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC have taken upon themselves the mission of feeding the hungry and caring for the needs of their community. Even as most have sufficient means, one could say these people of God are “poor” in spirit. There are weekly food gatherings, monthly distributions, clothing is offered and there are also partnerships with the local school. It was a joy to be among them as pastor, and through their discipleship to the poor I have learned much concerning the attitude of being poor in spirit.
Being “poor” in spirit means becoming a part of the community of Christ which addresses the needs of others regardless of circumstance. Being “poor” in spirit means humbly realizing that everyone, rich and poor, is totally dependent on God for daily bread. The call to the church, therefore, is to remember that God is the provider of all that we need, all that we have. He calls us to care for those with little so that all people may realize the abundance of living in God’s kingdom.
Happy are those who are poor in spirit. Happy are they who see the needs of others and respond with the love of God in Christ Jesus. Blessed are they who have the hope and assurance of eternal life in God’s kingdom, as they participate in the present reality of God’s mission and ministry for the sake of their neighbor.