When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:1-3

When Jesus began his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the first word out of his mouth was, “Blessed …” It is an amazing word, one that I reflected on in last week’s devotion. And this opening word would not have been a surprise to the crowds who originally heard this sermon. But Jesus’ next words surely would have. Because the first ones that Jesus blesses in this sermon are those who are “poor in spirit.” 

Why would Jesus bless the poor in spirit? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? And what did Jesus mean by this blessing, and by the accompanying promise that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? We don’t typically think of being poor as being blessed, and being poor in spirit certainly doesn’t sound like a good thing. But what Jesus means here is simply that the poor in spirit are those who know how much they need God. They know that they cannot be blessed in any other way. When we are poor in spirit, we know that we need God’s help and God’s mercy. We are desperate. We have tried everything else. And we have learned that there is nothing that gives our life meaning apart from God. And so, we have turned to God. We sit at the feet of Jesus, seeking nothing but his love. And he looks at us with love. And blesses us. And promises us the very kingdom of heaven. 

In his book on the Beatitudes, “The Ladder of the Beatitudes,” Jim Forest writes that the Beatitudes offer “the whole gospel in a grain of salt.” They offer us a summary of much of what Jesus came to teach us, a path of discipleship, a way of living as a follower of Jesus. And this journey begins with being poor in spirit; it begins with the simple recognition that we need Jesus. When we realize this, we are ready to let go of everything that leads us away from Christ. We are ready to take up our cross and follow him. We are ready to seek first his kingdom. We are ready to live the life that we were created to live, every moment of every day in the recognition that we have no good apart from Jesus. 

This first Beatitude stands at the beginning because it is the gate through which we must pass if we are to follow Jesus. We must first recognize our poverty of spirit. We must let go of everything else, everything that we have ever tried to do or to be or to have in order to discover the blessed life. Once we have done that, we are ready to enter the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus is ready to lead us there, every blessed step of the way. Many blessings to you as you join me in seeking the life that is truly blessed, the life that begins with recognizing that we are poor in spirit.

One thought on “What Does It Mean to Be Poor in Spirit?

  1. Amen. According to Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, the word “poor” here means destitute:
    “The word used here (ptōchoi) is applied to the beggar Lazarus in Luk_16:20, Luk_16:22 and suggests spiritual destitution (from ptōssō to crouch, to cower).”
    It is to such as these, says Jesus, that the untold resources of the kingdom of Heaven are available.

    Liked by 1 person

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