The Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Poor

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Matthew 5:3 God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5 through 7 is the first of five long discourses in Matthew.  This first one is famously called the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew has introduced his theme with his preaching, “Repent of your sins and turn to God for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  (Matt. 4:17), and the calling of the first disciples (Matt. 4:18-22).  The Sermon on the Mount answers the question, what does life look like in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Ch. 5:1-12 is a passage called the Beatitudes (a word that means “Blessed” in Latin for the first word in each verse).  “Blessed are those who are…”  What does a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven – a follower of Christ – look like?  This is the specific question addressed in the Beatitudes.

Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes is usually translated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Luke has simply, “Blessed are the poor….”  So what does Jesus mean by the phrase “poor in spirit”?  The poor are certainly not those whom the world would consider blessed, and in fact, the world often has considered the poor to be poor as a result of their own lack of character, for example, because they are lazy.

In the OT, the poor are often depicted as especially pious because oppression by the wealthy leads them to trust in the Lord for salvation and deliverance rather than relying on the power of wealth.  (Ps. 37:14-15; 40:17; 68:28-33; Isa. 61:1; 66:2)  And this is still true today.  The poor are often kept poor because of the oppression of the wealthy and powerful, and oppressive systems and governments.  The wealthy often turn their faces from the poor in order to deny their role in causing this suffering, and the Bible is clear that God will judge the rich for this.  (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 1:46-56)

In both Matthew and Luke, the poor are really poor materially, but it is their faith in God, not their poverty, is what makes them blessed.  The poor are often lifted up in the Bible as examples of faith toward God.  Poor people, precisely because of their lack of resources, are often humble in their nature and demeanor.  And the poor are most often those who must, because they have no material resources upon which to depend, must depend on God.

The word translated as “Blessed are…” is makarioi.  This is sometimes translated as “Happy are…”  But happiness in our modern culture is such an ephemeral concept it is subject to the vagaries of everyday life.

The blessed one is the one possesses the favor of God.  So Mary is called “highly favored.”  Blessedness differs from the happy person in that a person may be happy as a result of favorable circumstances.  The blessed one is blessed because his satisfaction comes from God despite circumstance.  So the poor are blessed because they have received the favor of God despite their poverty.

God of the poor, from the riches of your grace you share your riches with all who are in need.   Provide for the hungry and th e homeless and teach us to do likewise.  So also provide for all who spirits suffer from poverty, that none may doubt your goodness or overlook your faithfulness.  Above all, prevent us from thinking that we are rich, when we are really poor, blind, and naked – lest our self-deception separate us from you.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, became poor for our sake, so that by his poverty, we might become rich.  Amen.

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