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Beatitudes or Platitudes?

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I was reading the Beatitudes a couple of days ago and saw something that I’ve never noticed before, nor heard anyone preach about… at least not that I can remember (which is not much any more). (Part of what I’m going to comment on here is addressed in Wikipedia.)

Matthew’s recounting of the Beatitudes starts with Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3 NRSV) First of all, what does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” It seems to me like a believer would be “rich in spirit,” but maybe that’s just me. I might be able to find more about this poorness of spirit in commentaries, but in strictly reading the scripture, I’m not sure what it means. Now, compare it to Luke’s version: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. (6:20) Luke says flat out that it is the poor who are going to inherit the kingdom.

Okay, so what does “poor in spirit” mean? My first thought would be meekness, but that is addressed in verse 5, where it says that the meek shall inherit the earth, not the kingdom of heaven. So I’m not sure what it means, and my “in-Bible commentary” doesn’t elaborate.

Now here’s my question/thought about it: Do I believe that being poor automatically makes you an inheritor of the kingdom of God? Well, of course not! You can be poor and still be an unbeliever. I do think that being poor, generally, makes it easier to believe in God, because you aren’t surrounded by the trappings of wealth that can so easily fool you into thinking that you’re are doing okay on your own! But that’s not what Luke says. He plainly says “poor.” And these are his disciples he is talking to…the ones who’d given up everything to follow him…so they knew what “poor” meant.

Back to Matthew, in verse 6, he writes, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Luke writes in verse 21, Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. It seems to me that Luke has a much more ascetic, physical view of what it meant to be a follower, and that Matthew (who most scholars say wrote first) had a more spiritual view of what Jesus meant in his teachings.

How do I resolve this for myself? Well, I believe that following Jesus results in both spiritual and physical aspects that are often less than comfortable. If I am “hungering and thirsting” after being obedient, there might be a point where I give away all my food or all my money, and I will then truly hunger. Of course, Lottie Moon comes to mind.

For those who were not raised Southern Baptist, Lottie was a missionary to China at the turn of the 20th century. She immersed herself in the Chinese culture while telling them about Jesus. She so identified with them that when a terrible famine hit and many were starving, she too, refused to eat and gave away what little she had to the Chinese. She died of starvation on Christmas Eve in 1912. I do believe she was filled.

So what does this mean for me? I need to start looking for the deeper meanings, the “spirit” of scripture as it relates to following Jesus, not just making sure all the text accurately reflect one another. Jesus did not call us to an easy life, neither spiritually nor physically. If we are poor in spirit, then we must put ego aside—an extremely difficult task, because it feels like the dissolution of self. If we are poor, then that’s hard too. Personally, I think it’s harder to put ego aside (although I say that as someone who’s never experienced poverty, so I might be kidding myself!)

In either case, the physical and spiritual aspects of what obedience to Jesus leads us to are going to be difficult and against our very nature. I do know that he did not call us to a life of rule-following. He called us to die to our selves and, like Lottie became the presence of Christ in China, we are called to be his presence in a hurting world. Tall order.

(This makes me think about the whole concept of buying insurance, but that’s a post for another day. 🙂


Written by blogicalinks

October 21, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Posted in Seeking

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