Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Phillip Yancey quoted a writer named Monika Hellwig in an article on the beatitudes. She listed the “advantages” of being poor, and Yancey suggested we take it one step further by applying those same statements to the rich. In our age of materialism, these are some ideas worth considering:

HELLWIG: The poor know they are in need of redemption.
YANCEY: The rich do not know they are in urgent need of redemption.
HELLWIG: The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with one another.
YANCEY: The rich rest their security not on people, but on things.
HELLWIG: The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
YANCEY: The rich feel they are of great importance and strive to protect themselves from anything they think might threaten it.
HELLWIG: The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.
YANCEY: To the rich, it is a dog-eat-dog world – look after number 1.
HELLWIG: The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.
YANCEY: To the rich, everything is a necessity.
HELLWIG: The poor can wait because they have acquired a kind of dogged patience born of acknowledged dependence,
YANCEY: The rich want it now.
HELLWIG: The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated because they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.
YANCEY: The rich go to pieces when hardship does come their way.
HELLWIG: When the poor have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not a threat or a scolding.
YANCEY: The rich hear the gospel as a threat and an attempt to put them on a guilt trip.
HELLWIG: The poor can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.
YANCEY: The rich feel that they have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

In Matthew 19:23-24, we find Jesus saying, “It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and again I say to you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” When his disciples questioned this statement, Jesus went on to say, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (verses 2-26).”

We can debate the whole question of who is rich and who is poor, but in comparison with most people on this planet, everyone in America is rich. Reading the things Hellwig listed, you probably realize that you struggle with some of them. Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the poor.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus is not concerned with our gross income but our attitude toward what God has blessed us with and how we use it.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Hellwig and Yancy quotes are from Following the Call, edited by Charles Moore, Plough Publications © 2021 ISBN 978-1636080048