25 Feb Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
In his book Everything Belongs, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr opens with a short reflection he calls “Inherent Unmarketability.” Here’s what he says:
How do you make attractive that which is not?
How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess?
How do you talk descent when everything is about ascent?
How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture?
How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind?
How do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?
This is not going to work
(admitting this might be my first step).
Well, exactly so.
Descent is the language of spirituality which is precisely what makes it so contrary to our natural inclinations and no nonsensical to a culture that is founded upon climbing the proverbial ladder. The Beatitudes are all about descent and Jesus, never one to beat about the bush, gets right to it: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he says in the first Beatitude.
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? At its most basic it means to be emptied of self. It is what the Apostle Paul calls “dying to self.” It is the recognition before God that I am a spiritual zero. I have nothing of my own to merit anything from God. I am absolutely, completely destitute.
It is important to note that poverty of spirit addresses one’s attitude toward oneself. It has nothing to do with how we regard others. (Jesus will get to that later in the Beatitudes.) It is supremely concerned with how we see ourselves when we’re standing face-to-face with God. And, if your starting place in God’s presence is anything other than that you are a spiritual beggar, it ultimately means that you have never faced God as Lord of life and universe. That is the meaning of this first Beatitude.
Jesus calls those who are spiritually bankrupt “blessed.” Why would he say that? Because it is only those who recognize their spiritual emptiness who can be filled by God. Our actual sin is no problem for God. Our weakness is no stumbling block. It is our self-imaged “goodness” that comes between us and receiving God’s blessing. The great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon captured it well when he said, “Above all evils, we have the most cause to dread our own fullness.” When we are full of ourselves, God can give us nothing. But when we come to the end of ourselves, mercy begins.
It is really hard for us to come empty handed to anyone, even God. We are taught almost from the crib that it is self-reliance, success, and hard work that are the virtues to pursue if we want to be “blessed.” But, life in God’s kingdom works differently. God asks that we come just as we are, honestly acknowledging our shortcomings—our pride and stubbornness, our love of control, our judgmental attitudes, the gossiping and white lies, the drivenness, the need for others’ approval, and on and on and on it goes. God asks us to come, not after we’ve cleaned up all our messes or figured everything out, but right now, just as we are. And, when we do, God throws open his arms of love and mercy and pours out the blessing of his Kingdom upon us. Wow. My mess for God’s grace. That really is good news.
Yours for the Kingdom,