Live Poor

Lately I’m questioning my understanding of the very first line of the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus in Matthew 5:3, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Poor in spirit” is often seen to mean a lack of spirit. We reflect on what this lack might entail. Yet the Greek word translated as “poor” in this verse is directly associated with material poverty. Jesus is saying something more practical, more straightforward, than what our read of the English rendering might suggest. Namely, he seems to be saying: Orient your heart toward being poor. If you can do this, you can find your home within the kingdom that surrounds and transcends the narrow kingdom of this world.

It is not a call to be poor literally. We need not reject and cast away the blessings that God gave us to steward. To be poor in spirit is instead to turn the heart away from the chronic desire to be more rich, away from the expectation that a material solution can be found for inner dissatisfaction. We give up on the hope that the next major purchase or the next expansion of our holdings will do anything to improve our inner life. It won’t. Even so, making this turn is difficult. In our society, to give up on this particular false hope is to become markedly weird.