a “poor in spirit” wannabe

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

If I would choose a passage from Scripture to have on my tombstone, it would be this one. Something I aspire to, actually, not necessarily something I possess. In fact, too often I seem empty of it.

It’s so easy to be full of one’s self, or maybe for us who are further along it can be more subtle in that we see ourselves as full from the Lord, with emphasis on ourselves. That reminds me of people talking about “Spirit-filled churches,” or referring to themselves as Spirit-filled. Emphasis at least too often ends up being on self, or at least so it seems to me.

The really Spirit-filled people, and might I add, churches, are those who are more and more empty of themselves. They are too overcome to imagine that anything good can come out of them at all. So anything good is of God, and all else is suspect and in need of removal through brokenness and repentance.

Does this sound far out, or too severe? Consider the Apostle Paul’s picture he portrays in 2 Corinthians 12. He is tormented by a thorn in the flesh, no less than a messenger of Satan to keep him from being conceited because of the revelations God had given him. And he came to see that it was actually in his weakness that Christ’s strength became evident.

For too many of us, this might seem extreme. We have things pretty well in hand in the Lord, with God’s help. But we need to get past that to where it’s either all God, or nothing at all. We need to be content as those aspiring to be among “the poor in spirit.” And thus among the blessed ones. In and through Jesus.

come to Jesus just as you are

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

It seems to me that Jesus’s invitation here is clearly to all, and it’s an invitation into rest in a yoke beside him. So it’s a call to discipleship.

Jesus terms it in conditions of being beaten down, tired, weary, worn out. So it’s not like somehow he is calling those who are prepped to go on all eight (or more) cylinders, those doing well because they somehow deserve it, or as if he’s looking for the elite. Not at all. He is looking for the broken and downtrodden, those who may have failed along the way, and who of us hasn’t failed in some ways?

And Jesus doesn’t set any qualifications. Remember who he said is blessed: the poor in spirit, the poor, the meek, yes, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart (disposed to one thing), etc. So it’s not like you think you can dabble in the world, do your own thing, yet come at the same time, like include Jesus in the mix. It’s a call to come as you are, whatever that is, but it’s a call for all of life. Not that life isn’t to be enjoyed. In fact it can only be life to the full in Jesus.

No qualifications are set here by the Lord. He simply invites us to come to him, to take his yoke upon us, and learn from him. Not complicated, but something we must do.

I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t feel qualified. But it’s the ones who think they’re qualified and deserving who actually are not and often not disposed to heed Jesus’s invitation anyhow. Remember the parable of the Pharisee who thanked God about how good he was, and the tax collector who beat his breast and cried out, “God have mercy on me a sinner!” The latter was justified or considered acceptable by God, but the former, not.

This is my goal, to come to Jesus just as I am, and it’s honestly not much except what is broken and lost and disheveled and on and on. But at the same time I come as one who is willing and realizing that this is a call into an apprentice kind of relationship no less with Jesus himself by the Spirit. In and through him.

 

especially blessed can be the irregulars, those who don’t fit in

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6

When reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) one gets the impression that Jesus is especially at home with the misfits, those who are either uncomfortably normal, or normally uncomfortable. I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The characters in that story (I confess to having not read the book, but only seeing the film) can be off the wall, out of place, not obvious candidates for what they end up doing, but they band together into a group with a common purpose thrust on them, along with a seemingly mystical touch.

I for one have felt much out of place most all of my life. I have a hard time accepting myself, much less expecting others to accept me, warts and all. So I am amazed if anyone does put up with what is off in me, and still accepts me as a friend. It doesn’t seem to happen often. I am among those who have a cynical bent, and ask the hard questions. Yet I’m also more than happy to simply use that to more and more gently fit into a greater purpose than myself, or anyone else. Together with others.

In this world, if everyone was cool all the time with what is going on, it would be sad indeed. I wonder about a Christianity where everything is great all the time, in which one is always full of joy, and lets nothing bother them. It seems to me that real Christians ought to take seriously the sufferings of this world, and in and through Jesus and his suffering be able to navigate those hard places with the weeping followed by joy (in the morning, as the psalm says).

We need to make room and have a place for those who don’t fit, but may seem to be looking for a home. Can they find it with us in Jesus? Are we helping them to find their place in Jesus? God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, and therefore calls each one to be reconciled to him. And many who are reconciled may not be at home with us, because we fail to see God’s love on them, even Jesus in them. They are often the irregulars, the misfits, those who don’t have, or find much of what this world holds dear. But who are really at home in and through Jesus.

blessed are the poor in spirit

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5

The NET Bible‘s note on Matthew 5:3 reflects something I believe of a scholarly consensus on this passage, seeing it as Matthew’s version of Luke’s words about the poor being happy, or blessed:

The poor in spirit is a reference to the “pious poor” for whom God especially cares. See Ps 14:6; 22:24; 25:16; 34:6; 40:17; 69:29.

That could well be. But I think that Matthew applies this, and in so doing reflects the Lord’s application or meaning here, in referring to those who know their need of God (see the NLT translation in the Matthew 5 link above). Or more accurately, simply those who are poor in spirit, the spiritually poor. In the Hebrew mindset which is reflected in Jesus’s disciples’ thinking, to be poor materially was not far removed in their eyes as failing to be under God’s blessing, indeed perhaps under God’s curse. We can see some good reason for that application with reference to Israel as a nation (the blessings and the cursings named in the Pentateuch). But God’s care for the poor, who in many cases were at least open to God in contrast to the rich, who in not a few cases victimized the poor and came under God’s judgment, is a theme in the Old/First Testament, carried over into the gospel accounts (Matthew through John) and especially a prominent theme in the book of James.

So to be poor materially would lend itself to one better understanding their need for God, which in fact is another theme of scripture, with the contrast that the wealthy oftentimes rely on their wealth, in fact make it their god, and imagine themselves to be in no need of God. For one to be poor materially, and realize that, could help one to realize their inner poverty as well, since they are not benefiting from some other source apart from God. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that receiving help from other sources, such as the government is intrinsically bad, because that indeed can be the secondary source from the true source, God.

But now to cut to the chase, or more precisely, make the point I wanted to make in this post all along. I so readily identify with the idea of being “poor in spirit.” Oftentimes in my lifetime, inwardly I have been anything but rich. I see other Christians around me who seems joyful, or profess some kind of inner peace or spiritual bearing which I completely lack. Not that I’m saying my experience is good, because in and of itself, it’s not. Such experience could amount to any number of things in the present day assessment. One might be clinically depressed, or something physical affecting the emotional and psychological might be going on, which needs to be addressed. At any rate, I’ve felt not only an inner emptiness, but a desolation that can seem heavy and nearly suffocating at times.

And so I’m more than happy to hear our Lord’s words, that the poor in spirit are blessed, the very first “beatitude” of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. That helps me be able to relax in my abject inward poverty, and by faith not let it move me from seeking to fulfill God’s will in Jesus as for example, in loving others. When one doesn’t feel well physically, it’s hard to hang in there, even sometimes impossible to carry on the normal responsibilities of life. And the same holds true spiritually as well. We can’t give out what we don’t have within, and we can spew out what is not good within, no doubt.

And so our Lord’s words here are quite encouraging and even uplifting to me in calling the likes of me along with others who are poor in spirit, blessed. In that word, in my weakness, I can find God’s strength. And in my spiritual destitution, I have no where else to turn to but God. Aside from some of the other help I might receive, which could be a part of the help I would receive from God.

And so I’m not concerned about being a spiritual pauper, because I know to whom to turn for the true riches which for us in Jesus are spiritual, rather than material. The true and eternal life that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lent and brokenness

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

There is a kind of brokenness to which we in Jesus are to aspire. It is the brokenness of humility in repentance which involves both sorrow over sin and change of life. It is necessary for and helps us to the way of Jesus in being poor in spirit, meek and merciful, along with the rest of the characteristics which make up the blessed.

We need this brokenness because we are by nature hard, stubborn, impenetrable, set in our ways in thought and action. That is why sensitivity to sin and to ways the Lord would have us change is critical to ongoing growth in the life in God through Jesus by the Spirit.

Lent is a season set apart to special consideration of this daily in embracing the way of the cross. We do so as those in need of the forgiveness the cross of Jesus brings. And we take up our own cross as those who have been baptized into Jesus’ death to sin and unrighteousness and by that risen to life to God and to righteousness by grace. But this new life is always lived out from a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart in and through Jesus.