Brothers and Sisters,
During our Bible Study on the group of Mark, I said that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are expanded and corrected versions of the Gospel of Luke. Most of Mark was copied down word for word, but then Matthew and Luke had things to add from other witnesses to Jesus’s ministry. Chapters five to seven of Matthew are called the “sermon on the mount” and are inserted right after words quoted from Mark 1:20. Since Matthew records many events before the baptism of Jesus, we seem to be much further into the story in Matthew.
The first few verses of Matthew five are often called “the beatitudes.” The name comes from the old Latin version of the Bible. Each of the eight blessings start with the same Latin word “beati” which means “blessed, happy or rich.” So, the word beatitude meant “a state of blessedness, happiness, or spiritual wealth.”
The odd thing is that Jesus uses these words to point out many people who you would not assume to be blessed, happy, or rich. Along with the meek, the merciful and peacemakers, we get the poor and the oppressed. The lessons of Jesus often turn our notions upside down. This fits in with statements like “the greatest among you must be the servant of all.” Jesus takes our normal ideas of life and challenges them.
Since we will be looking at just a few verses at a time, I will include a few translations of the same verse. These words were originally spoken in Jesus’s native language and later written down in Greek. The Greek New testament was first translated into Latin. So, sometimes, an easy way to dig deeper into the meaning of a text is to provide different English translations. If you ever looked at a copy of the King James (or Authorized) translation of the Bible, you would know that English keeps changing as well.
Matthew 5:1-3 [New International Version]
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:1-3 [J.B.Phillips’ New Testament]
When Jesus saw the vast crowds he went up the hill-side and after he had sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began his teaching by saying to them, “How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!
Matthew 5:1-3 [Contemporary English Version]
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the side of a mountain and sat down. Jesus’ disciples gathered around him, and he taught them: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!
Matthew 5:1-3 [The Message]
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
Matthew 5:1-3 [King James Version]
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It can be interesting to see which thoughts of the translations are similar and which are different.
Verse three is confusing and allows a lot of room for interpretation. The “poor in Spirit” can be seen as people who choose to be humble, people who are dependent upon God from moment to moment, or people who are almost defeated by life.” You could also interpret “the poor in spirit” to be the people who trust God even though they don’t have much faith or people who have taken a vow of poverty.
To my mind, each of these translations are facets of the same gem. Poor people know that life is a daily challenge, a daily test of faith, and a humbling experience. Jesus is telling us to learn what poverty teaches us: fighting adversity is the only thing that brings character. You can’t feel compassion until your heart has been broken. You cannot be a graceful winner if you have never lost. You cannot appreciate God’s mercy until you have accepted your own imperfections.
So, “the poor in spirit” are the only ones who understand the true value of a “wealth of spirit.” Just as diamonds are formed under tremendous heat and pressure, the great people of faith who help lead the way for us are people who have suffered adversity, suffered temptation, and sought faith, love, and hope, when it would have been much easier to surrender to self-reliance, hatred, and despair.
It is hard to imagine a loving person who never suffered rejection. It is hard to imagine a caring person who was raised in a cocoon of wealth and privilege. It is difficult to be a trustworthy person, if you never had to trust the kindness of others.
Pastors aren’t as impressive as titles make us out to be. My general experience is that most people who train to be clergy and church workers came to ministry after different kinds of hardship like poverty, personal tragedy, serious depression, or dysfunctional families (or many hardships rolled together). I’ve even known great church leaders who became Christian in prison or after beginning recovery from drug addiction. Most of the people who didn’t last long in seminary or in the first years of ministry tended to be people who were too broken or not broken enough. As in the Bible, God often calls misfits to do his work (like Abraham, Moses, and Paul).
So, yes, the “poor in spirit” can be happy and blessed in ways that others can’t understand. As Christians, we are not so much the “righteous” as we are “redeemed” sinners.