“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
During my study time over the years I am ashamed to say that I never bothered to exegete the Beatitudes. I knew them and so due to that and their apparent simplicity, I never bothered to study them out in a meaningful way.
Over the last few years however, I’ve gotten into the habit of reading everything in an interlinear Bible. My love of exegesis demands it, really. And so when I found myself reading the Beatitudes again, I found myself in a Word study accidentally.
I’m glad I did.
Today I’m going to cover Matthew 5:3 in a short post and then proceed to go line by line from there in the following days.
Christ really begins his public ministry in Matthew with the Beatitudes and it’s a revolutionary act, beyond anything the world had seen or comprehended up to that point. The truth is that we still don’t comprehend his words. They seem to be the reciprocal of every bit of conventional wisdom that we have, fitting for the pattern son of an alien species; the Elect.
Here in his first statement we see this played out:
Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι , Ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν .
Blessed are the poor in the spirit for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.
Blessed means ‘to prefer and empower to prosper by speaking over someone’.
Who does this say is blessed, preferred, empowered to prosper?
God does not just have sympathy for the poor, in his grace he actively prefers them. In a church age that is so intrinsically tied to the World System and its values, this is difficult to fathom. We tend to see God’s preference as being the middle class; a home with a mortgage, a new car every few years, material comforts surrounding us, college for the kids and a comfortable retirement. We see this as being the desire of God for us so much that we actually use it as an evangelistic technique – and we call it ‘being blessed’.
Christ turns this on its ear and says to us that the blessing is not on the comfortable or the financially solvent, the blessing is on the poor. I’d like to hit on just one reason that I believe this is.
First, humans never seek God when they feel that they don’t need God. When the bills are paid, the marriage is okay, the kids aren’t nuts and there’s money in the bank with the promise of more coming, you don’t seek God. You’ll go to church because that’s an insurance policy to protect your prosperity. You might read a devotional. You might even pray a bit just to further ensure you and your families continued comfort.
What you won’t do is seek God with the violence of someone that has no option but God. That’s reserved for the poor.
In our Theology, this preference for the poor becomes a foundational element of our walk in this world and our understanding of God’s agenda here.
We must see that preferring the poor is not the same as accepting poverty and considering it a good thing. Christ states that the poor are blessed (preferred and empowered to prosper), letting us know that the state of poverty is not the desired end. This apparent contradiction helps us to understand several things:
First, material poverty is never good but an evil to be opposed. It is not simply an occasion for charity but a degrading force that denigrates human dignity and ought to be opposed and rejected.
Second, poverty is not a result of fate or laziness, but is due to structural injustices that privilege some while marginalizing others. Poverty is not inevitable; collectively the poor can organize and facilitate social change.
Third, poverty is a complex reality and is not limited to its economic dimension. To be poor is to be insignificant. Poverty means an early and unjust death.
Poverty is not a benefit of the Kingdom of God. It is a systemic evil that is provided a remedy only inside of the Kingdom. The poor are empowered to prosper inside of that Kingdom, even if they can catch no break in the World System.
The poor will gladly receive the truth of this, embrace the grace of the spoken blessing and find genuine sozo inside this revolutionary Kingdom of God. Then in turn, they can proclaim this good news to others and overthrow corrupt systems that seek to enslave and humiliate us as humans.
You poor are empowered to prosper by the blessing, Christ is saying. In this Kingdom, wealth is given freely and prosperity can flow into all five realms of human existence: mind, body, spirit, financial and social! Receive it and then go free others! Set a new financial system in place in the earth that is just and fair and good for all!
That’s a revolutionary statement and one that we’ve still not heard in the church.