BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT (Mat. 5:3)
The Blessed, or the “Makarioi” are the dispensers of grace, and they teach us how to live for God in the world. The B Attitudes, if they had began with “filled with the spirit” or being “rich in spirit,” I, very likely, would not have undertaken this study to see where it would lead me. I am intrigued by what is so important in my attitude to be “poor in spirit?” I have heard and preached many sermons on the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the human heart; but I have never thought of a soul that was blessed being poor in the spirit. Join me in my little journey and see where it leads. How some people can dispense grace in a world like ours?
The majority of the people in our world belong to the class of the poor. In the U.S.A., the welfare constituents occupy this rank. But their income makes them rich in comparison to most of the people in our world. In Poland, some of our neighbors were poor. A family of seven lived in a small house on four acres of land. They had one cow, a number of chickens and several pigs. There were two males who were mostly drunk on home brew. That was in 1939. But these neighbors were rich in comparison to the poor in the Sermon on the Mount, especially to the disciples that had given up everything to follow Jesus (Mk. 10:28). There were two types, the materially poor and the poor in spirit. Jesus was concerned with the poor, but far more so with man’s attitude and aptitude.
Material poverty did play a major role drawing people to Jesus. He himself had nowhere to lay his head (Mt. 8:20) and he had come to bring good news to the poor (Lk. 4:18). The Gospel of Luke thought that Jesus had the materially poor in mind only, perhaps due to the lack of understanding how the Holy Spirit could fit into a person’s life (6:20). He called them the “hoi ptochoi.” We would call them beggars, homeless or street people. Manny of them were victims of circumstances beyond their control. There were also many that lived on begging and handouts. These will always be present and there is nothing anybody can do to change such a way of thinking (Jn. 12:8). They have a slave mentality that depends on others to feed them. This mentality has influenced people that are not poor at all. They want employers, governments or the rich to supply all their necessities.
Christianity has championed the poor. Poverty had become an enviable qualification for the kingdom. Camels had a better chance to enter the kingdom of heaven than the rich (Lk. 19:24). Christ’s ministry did appeal to the disadvantaged (Mt. 11:4-5). The first Christian preachers drew their converts from the poor (1 Cor. 1:26). God had chosen the poor and rejected the rich that caused poverty (Ja. 2:1-7). Christians in Jerusalem disposed of their riches that had become the enemy of their faith (Ac. 4:32-37). It did not take long that these Jewish Christians begged the Gentiles for help (II Cor. 8). They learned that poverty alone was not a sure way into the kingdom. Paul began to tell his converts that if they wanted to eat then they had to go back to work (II Thes. 3:6-12).
It became apparent that material poverty had to be spiritualized in order to become eligible for the kingdom. Material possessions were not a hindrance, but the love for them was (Mt. 19:22). Those who lived only to acquire riches became fools bound for hell (Lk. 12:20). Those who were poor had a far better chance to end up in the bosom of Abraham (Lk. 16:22). People were giving up their earthly goods for the cause of Christ (Lk. 19:8), and Jesus commended them for it (Lk. 19:9). He praised the widow who gave her last penny (Mk. 12:43-43). To the disciples who had left their earthly things, he promised rich rewards on earth as well as in heaven (Mt. 19:27-30). Jesus felt that they were laying up treasures in heaven (Mt. 6:20) and were getting rich toward God (Lk. 12:21). To them the kingdom of heaven had come first and they were worthy of the earthly blessings (Mt. 6:33).
The human mind is very fertile. It found a new garb for being poor in spirit. Credit would go to Paul, a Pharisee, for defining spirituality that would lead to an otherworldly lifestyle. It was not an entirely new concept. The Hasidic movement first entertained the idea of a separated life from the world. The Pharisees were the continuation of Hasidism and Paul became the Christian representative. The movement entertained a religious or spiritual superiority. Paul identified this attitude with the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11). He distinguished three types of Christian lifestyles. The Greek text has “sarkinois, psychikois and pneumatikois” (I Cor. 2:13-3: 3). The first group was fleshly or concerned with how to make a living. The second bunch was psychic or emotional concerned with good feelings. The third was the elite that depended on the mind to determine how best to avoid even work if necessary. This group became the saints that exacted a living from the public. In return, they could bless and pray people into heaven.
Poverty had become an enviable lifestyle for the saints. Mendicants, Stylists, Monks and traveling preachers glorified poverty and seclusion. Like Paul, the first wandering preachers, was content with whatsoever state they were in. And like Paul, they did not encourage Christians to improve their social or financial status in this world. You were what you were by God’s design and to change it would mean that one is not complying with God’s natural order (I Cor. 7:17-24). It was based on the belief that the world would soon end and therefore it was unwise to compete for the world’s goods. Like the rich fool, there would be no one left to enjoy the riches (Lk. 12:20). When the world did not end and Christ did not come back, the poor realized that they needed financial backing. By the time Matthew wrote his account of Jesus, “the poor in spirit were the way into the kingdom.”
Paul was one of the first to encourage a “makarioi” attitude and aptitude between poor and rich or slave and master. “Slaves, obey your masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He is both their Master and yours in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (Eph. 6:5-9). The Lord himself asked his disciples, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the Master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose Master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Mt. 24:45-47).
I have had such an experience with my employer when I came to Canada. He sent me out to cultivate a large field, brought we a drink on the first day and never showed up again. I finished the field a day later and went back to the farm. I asked him why he had not checked up on me. He replied, “Why would I? You finished the work one half day faster than I did myself.” This farmer had five quarters of 160 acres each. He offered me one quarter for looking after his two small boys and his farm. At that time, I did not belong to any Church; however, I felt accountable for what I was instructed to do and I did have the fear of the Lord in my heart. I was not a “makarios” and I do not feel at the present that I am one, but I do know the difference between lip service and the will of God (Mt. 7:21).
A “makarioi” attitude expresses itself in deeds rather than in words. They do not blow a horn to announce their intentions. They follow their Master’s instructions. “So when you intend to help the needy, do not be as noisy as the sound of a trumpet. You are not like the religious leaders that want to be noticed and rewarded by men. You, yourself, must keep the left hand from knowing what the right hand does. Your reward will come from your Father who sees what is done in secret” (Mt. 6:2-4). These are the “makarioi” that have the means and the attitude to help. To become one that can give, one has to learn worldly means and ways. In the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, Jesus showed his disciples what they had to do to succeed in this world financially. “The people of the world are wiser in their use of money, even amongst themselves, than the people that believe in God. I tell you, you will do well by making friends with people of means; for when you will be in need you will have somewhere to go” (Lk. 16:8-9).
Total strangers have saved my life at least three times and a fourth by medical experts and acquaintances, without the sound a horn. I also know that even mean human beings do reciprocate. My father was a Polish soldier, after Poland surrendered to Hitler and Stalin, he was sent home by the Russians with his friend and two horses and a wagon full of army supplies. They were a day from home when bandits attacked them, stripped them of their clothes and tied them to trees until they decided what to do with my father and his friend. One of the bandits recognized my father and he remembered that my father had done work for his family in our blacksmith shop. This bandit risked his life by freeing my father and his friend and they escaped naked but unharmed. It was an enemy that saved me from drowning at the age of twelve in Poland under German occupation. In Canada, two strangers wrapped me in a blanket and saved me from burning alive. The “makarioi” do not wear identifying signs but are present with their deeds.