Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

It's the first, (and either only or of a few) Beatitutuesdays here at Sandpiper's Thoughts. Let's look at the first beatitude in four versions -- NRSV and Message of the Matthew 5 and Luke 6 texts.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NRSV, Matthew 5:3)

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (The Message)

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (NRSV, Luke 6:20)

You're blessed when you've lost it all.
God's kingdom is there for the finding. (The Message)

What does it mean to be "poor in spirit?" One of my study bibles ("Old Faithful" red New Oxford Annotated NRSV) refers us to Isaiah 66:2, which says, "But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word." This same book defines poor in spirit as "those feeling a deep sense of spiritual poverty." My NIV study bible ("Old blue") contrasts poor in spirit to those who "are spiritually proud and self-sufficient."

I like The Message version -- "Blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you, there is more of God and his rule."

I wonder if poor in spirit is perhaps that point in time when we finally come to realize that "God is God, and I am not." It's one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs. Here's the first two verses and the first line of the chorus:

And the pain falls like a curtain
On the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most
I just don't know.

And the questions without answers
Come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move
Afraid to fall, oh, but fall I must
On this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

God is God and I am not.

Don't we all get to that place at some point? That point in life when we remember to pray, when we realize that whatever the problem is, it is beyond our own capability? It's when we are at the end of our rope (figuratively speaking) -- in our weakness, that God can strengthen us. Perhaps this beatitude is really telling us that it is when we find peace in our weaknesses -- our inadequacies -- that we will discover the abiding joy of knowing the strength of God.

Compare those thoughts to this, from Paul's second letter to Corinth:

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Frederick Buschner wrote, "Not the spiritual giants, but the "poor in spirit," as he [Jesus] called them, the ones who, spiritually speaking, have absolutely nothing to give and absolutely everything to receive, like the Prodigal telling his father, 'I am not worthy to be called thy son,' only to discover for the first time all he had in having a father."

We will find abiding joy when we finally find the peace of knowing that we are not sufficient, but that God is all-sufficient -- when we accept the grace of God's strength in our own weaknesses.


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