Beatitude problem?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:3)

I've been musing on the Beatitudes, and this first one in particular for a few days now. The Beatitudes is a passage of scripture that, I believe, has accumulated much religious baggage over the millennia. Many fight with the impulse to say "blesséd" rather than "blessed." Over familiarity also has robbed much of the impact. But when Jesus ascended the mount and first opened his mouth to teach the people the words were fresh, relevant, and filled with authority and impact.

First these were not religious words or devices of speech, but a poetic device lifted from the popular culture of his time. Jesus was not speaking from a dusty pulpit, but a sunlit mountaintop with the wind in his hair. He was not engaging with the religious teachers, Pharisees or scribes, but with the ordinary everyday people.

He was however making a powerful theological statement. Moses ascended the mountain and gave the people ten commandments, the Law that they must obey. Jesus when he ascends the mount instead speaks nine blessings. He replaces Law with grace, and curse with blessing.

The words "Blessed are..." were not intended as nice uplifting sentimental thoughts to ponder. They were creative words of life. Jesus was not just speaking as a passive observer about the blessings he perceived to be already present on various groups of people - he was actively speaking and commanding those blessings into being. It was an impartation: "Blessed are you!"

So what of this first beatitude? Why has it caught my attention? Well primarily because it is the first, and nothing Jesus did lacked significance. A blessing on the poor was part of his mission statement lifted from the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound
(Isaiah 61:1)

But this is where I think I may have a "beatitude problem" because I disagree with the common rendering of this first blessing. Jesus' self-professed mandate was to bring a blessing to the poor. Not just the spiritually poor - the poor. And the way he was to do that was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. With the use of a comma and the insertion of the definite article (that is present in the Greek) this beatitude becomes a powerful declaration of the good news Jesus was anointed to deliver.

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

The Spirit is the agent, not the adjective! Jesus is speaking into being the very blessing he was prophesied to bring.

The poor are blessed. How? In the Holy Spirit. What is their blessing? Nothing less than the Kingdom of God!

If I am right, (and that is not a given, I'm no expert in Greek... but all my research this far backs up my hunch) then this becomes a powerful opening statement that sets the scene, not just for the rest of the sermon on the mount, but for the whole New Testament. It is the walk of faith in a nutshell!

It's not about how much material resource we have. The way of faith, does not depend on our natural abilities or resources. We should never place our confidence in such things as these. It is not the path of the flesh that is blessed by God, but the path in step with his Spirit. It is about absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zec 4:6)

The path of blessing for the poor is the same for every one of us. It is the path that the Spirit leads us in. It is the path that pursues the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that the Father has been pleased to give us; that Jesus announced is ours; that the Spirit now leads us to possess - his glory is our blessing.


carl said...

Chris, just stay out of the Beatitudes. Especially if you are going to look at them through the eyes of Jesus. Just play nice with the religious.

SLW said...

Blessed am I, for having read your post! That was fresh, loved it. I certainly can amen the application and the repercusssions.

Richard Bentall said...


"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." In our modern times, the word "meek" is most often thought to be synonymous with "weak", and we therefore misinterpret Christ through our misunderstanding of the use of that word in the time of the translation of the Bible. However, the translation is meant to refer to the older use of the word better understood when it is used as a verb, as in "to meek a horse". The animal is still physically powerful and imposing, and deserving of respect, and yet it has become obedient to its loving master. Well worth looking up Hab 1 and the war horse there

Richard B

Anonymous said...

I always thought that being poor in spirit was about not holding on to wealth. The weird phrase "in spirit" is probably the thing you are having trouble with, as often the only spirit refered to is the spirit of God. But spirit seems to also be about purpose, attitude and life, (not that the HS isn't). I picked up the whole "hold things in the world lightly" thing from my parents, but they seem to be a less extreemly phrased version of Jesus' teaching, as he tends to talk about hating things rather than just holding them lightly!