In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, notice where Jesus leads off:
“ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
He started the Beatitudes – in fact He started the whole sermon – with those words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus knew that everything else He would teach us begins there, with spiritual poverty. That word “poverty” in the Greek means “beggarly.”
Jesus told us that the beginning of what it means to follow Him and to live in the Kingdom starts with spiritual poverty, to be an open-handed beggar before God.
None of what is to follow in the Beatitudes is possible without first becoming a spiritual beggar. “Blessed are the merciful” is only possible for those who are poor. When we recognize our own need for mercy, we are then able to show mercy to others. Beggars have no right to judge and condemn others. “Blessed are the meek” only happens in the context of spiritual poverty. Beggars don’t think of themselves more highly than they ought. Meekness and humility is a natural outcome of poverty. Overcoming sin, finding peace, rest in Christ…it all begins with poverty. I can’t experience any of those things until I realize how powerless I am to make them happen.
I think it is interesting that Jesus ends the Beatitudes with “blessed are you when men persecute you.” When we become committed to living a life of spiritual poverty, we become a threat to the religious system that has become so confident in their own works. When we divest ourselves of the things that so corrupt our relationship with God and return to the simplicity of a beggar kneeling before Christ, that threatens the status quo. Modern Christianity is not set up that way.
Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the spiritually poor. What does that mean to people like me who have spent way too much time trying to be rich?
Luke’s gospel leaves out the “in spirit” part, it just says, “Blessed are the poor.” What if God actually was calling me, not only to spiritual poverty, but physical poverty as well? What if Jesus knew something I don’t seem to get: that material wealth is actually the enemy of truly knowing Him. That all my stuff doesn’t make me closer to God, it actually pulls me away from Him.
What might happen if I had the courage to let go of everything I have built, treasured, stored, and grasped, and became that open-handed beggar before my God? Maybe I would lose everything. Then again, according to Jesus, it’s really the only way to gain everything.