Nature abhors a vacuum.
Day 7: Matthew 5:3
Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor, the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
In Chapters 5-7 of the Book of Matthew Jesus preaches his definitive sermon referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount”. It is here that he interprets the Law of Moses, expands on it, and gives us a lot of specifics about how we are to live a life that’s pleasing to God. This is the place where he gives us practical advice.
Jesus opens this sermon of sermons with the “Beatitudes” (or “Blessings”), a series of enigmatic statements that turn world upside down relative to conventional wisdom about success and happiness. Most of these beatitudes are based on scriptures in the Old Testament, especially those of the prophets, although a couple of them introduce new concepts.
In this (Good News) version of the Bible, each of these Beatitudes begins with the words “Happy are those….” Other versions of the Bible translate it as “Blessed are those….” The New Testament was originally written in Greek, so it’s often useful to examine the original words that were used by the writers (in this case Matthew). The Greek word is “makarios”, which indeed means either “happy” or “blessed.” Some people are very attached with the word “blessed.” I think I prefer “happy” because some people seem to think that God wants them to be sad all the time. Happiness (and a state of blessedness) can be found even in life’s difficult circumstances, like those situations listed in many of the Beatitudes.
The first beatitude refers to spiritual poverty. The word for poverty in Greek is ptóchos, which means one who crouches, cowers, or begs because he is poor or wretched. The word for spirit is pneuma, which means wind or breath (or spirit). When I look at these Greek words the first thing that comes into my mind is weather systems. The wind flows from areas of high pressure to low (impoverished) pressure, just like water runs from areas of high elevation to lower elevation. Hurricanes, for example, are just big low pressure systems. As they suck up the surrounding air they create fierce surface winds.
The lower the air pressure, the higher the velocity of the wind as the atmosphere evens itself out. Similarly, when we are spiritually impoverished, we are open to a blast of the wind of the Holy Spirit. Very often when we are sad, depressed, hopeless, and desperate, we look for a breakthrough in our spiritual lives. It is at these times, when we are in an open and fragile state, that we are most likely to encounter the Kingdom of heaven. We are spiritual beings, and when we get into a season of suppressing that part of our nature it’s like we are holding our breath. When we finally give up and breathe in the spirit it’s a big gasp. And a big relief. Life-giving, in fact.
Another thing I think of when I read this scripture is the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes. Most people think this book is depressing. The writer declares that everything in the world is “vanity” (useless) and at the end of life’s journey there is nothing left but obedience to God. I think Jesus is saying that this is where you have to be before you can find the Kingdom – at the end of your rope and having exhausted all options. So when have your “Ecclesiastes moment” you find yourself feeling like everything is useless and you are ready for something more. Maybe you have lost a loved one, or suffered from a breakup, or had a bad diagnosis, or experienced a disappointment, or are having a middle-aged crisis. You begin to search for something higher, something eternal, something transcendent. The world disappoints us over and over again, but life in the spirit is always a joy. When we enter into the spiritual life we enter into the Kingdom of heaven here on earth, and our lives begin to provide others with glimpses of God’s Kingdom. It’s unfortunate that most of us (including myself for sure) don’t explore the spiritual life until we are feeling hopeless and unhappy. We don’t turn to God until we hit that Ecclesiastical wall.
Finally, this scripture indicates that the Kingdom of Heaven has a different set of rules than those of earthly kingdoms. For example, earthly logic would assume that the most “spiritual” person who has found all the answers would be the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But heavenly logic dictates that it’s the neediest, most messed up person who enters first. And I have found this to be true. Some of my most profound spiritual experiences have been when I was in the depths of despair. It’s amazing how quickly a blast of the wind of the Holy Spirit can lift you up out of our circumstances, turning dejection and sorrow into joy and hope. When the gates of heaven open, the cares of the world don’t seem nearly as important.
So here in this first beatitude is an introduction to the topsy-turvy world of the Kingdom of Heaven where those who have everything figured out will miss it while those who are clueless will find it. This is a recurrent theme in Jesus’ teachings. I often I feel bad about the fact that I feel kind of fragile, like I’m on the edge. But I guess that’s a good thing. This scripture says that when I’m in free fall the wind of the spirit will blow me in the right direction. I guess the way to find the Kingdom of God is to be as clueless as possible. Nothing is more unproductive than spiritual pride and having all the answers.
What does this scripture say to you?