Thursday, March 6, 2008
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like all other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
(Matthew 5:3; Luke 18:9-14; James 4:6b-10 - all NIV)
The desire to procure and accumulate securities and assets is one of the fundamental impulses in human experience. Fulfilment and satisfaction are sought by progressively 1 increasing our ability to control and manipulate our ~ environment. Success comes to those who learn quickly how to stack the cards in their own favour. This acquisition of power is manifested in a great variety of ways in different cultures, individuals and groups.
In his proclamation of the kingdom of God Jesus exposed the futility and deception of seeking fulfilment in this way. 'What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his lifer Jesus taught that the blessedness of God is to be found in 'poverty of spirit'. When we begin to appreciate our finitude ~- we become liberated from the paralysis of self-concern. Jesus lived in total reliance upon God, demonstrating the freedom which comes from recognising our ultimate dependence upon the one who made us in his image. When our lives are dominated by the desire to become secure through the attainment of assets, we live in bondage to powers which destroy and distort life rather than those that lead to fulfilment and satisfaction. It does not matter if it is money or property, position or privilege, qualifications or expertise. All these things, useful in themselves, become forces of destructIon when seen as ends m themselves. To live in total abandonment to God and his kingdom is to begin to experience authentic human life - life as it is meant to be. One of the primary characteristics of 'spiritual poverty' is the freedom to live our lives for others. Liberated from the oppressive bondage of self-centredness, we become free to discover the presence of God in the life of others. No longer concerned to establish our own worthiness we become free to confess our failures and experience God's forgiveness. No longer threatened by others and their abilities we are free to love our nelghbours, and even our enemies.
Jesus knew the freedom of 'blessed destitution’. He calls us to live our lives in constant recognition of our 'littleness' and our 'powerlessness', and thereby discover the way to authentic human existence.
The poor are the people who have to put up with violence and injustice without being able to defend themselves. The poor are all the people who have to exist on the very fringe of death, with nothing to live from and nothing to live for. But in Jesus’ message the poor are surely all of us too, since we have nothing to offer the coming God except the burden of our guilt and the rags of our exile - like the Prodigal Son.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless
What does Jesus mean by 'poor in spirit'? In Luke's account it is simply 'you poor. What kind of poverty is he talking about? If you have a lot of money, you'll probab)y say spiritual poverty. If you have little or no money, you'll probably say physical poverty. The rich will thank God for Matthew; the poor will thank God for Luke. Both will say, 'He blessed me!' Well, then, who really did get the blessing? Chances are, neither one. For it is exactly this attitude of self-praise and self- justification and self-satisfaction that robs men of a sense of great need for the kingdom and its blessings. When one says, 'I don't need to be poor in things; I'm poor in spirit,' and another says, 'I don't need to be poor in spirit; I'm poor in things,' both are justifying themselves as they are, and are saying in unison, 'I don't need'. With that cry on his lips, no man can repent.
Clarence Jordan, The Sermon on the Mount
Authentic abandonment or poverty in spirit realises that God is not 'out there'. God is 'with us', inviting us to work actively as co-creators, totally dedicating our lives to accomplish the divine plan in that part of history entrusted to us by the span of our life. This invitation requests merely the giving of ourselves. We are totally at the service of our Maker who has inaugurated the plan. We are to submit to its ethic in our life and proclaim it to our world. This kind of abandonment finds us freely choosing to live under the authority of this power of God within us to accomplish God's purposes in our society. In this way we become poor in spirit, anointed with God's favour. We can bring good news to the poor of our world. . . Realising our own needs and our powerlessness, we respond in God's power to care about other powerless brothers and sisters whom we see in need. As God has seen us in need and not left us helpless, so we too exist, by our nature, to respond in care to those we see in need.
Michael Crosby, The Spirituality of the Beatitudes
Privation is the lot of the disciples in every sphere of their lives. They are 'poor. They have no security, no possessions to call their own, not even a foot of earth to call their home, no earthly society to claim their absolute allegiance. Nay more, they have no spiritual power, experience or knowledge to afford them consolation or security. For his sake they have , lost all. In following him they lost even their own selves, and everything that could make them rich. Now they are poor - so inexperienced, so stupid, that they have no other hope but him who called them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
May God create in us a true poverty of spirit so that we may be fully at God's disposal, free from the ambitions, options, power, and prestige of this world which make us feel so poor and little by comparison. Such people our Lord calls. blessed. May we be liberated from that stilling and overwhelmIng sense of poverty that destroys personhood, and may we be freed from the contemporary illusions of life and death. May we then find resurrection life in the midst of what appears to be certain death, and the riches of our Lord's grace to the little ones in the midst of what appears to be hopeless poverty.
Gene Beerens, in Sojourners Magazine
In poverty of spirit man learns to accept himself as someone who does not belong to himself. It is not a virtue which man 'acquires'; as such it could easily turn into a personal possession that would challenge our authentic poverty. Man , truly 'possesses' this radical poverty only when he forgets himself and looks the other way. . . To be able to surrender oneself and become 'poor' is, in biblical theology, to be with God, to find one's hidden nature in God; in short, it is 'heaven'. .. To become a man as Christ did is to practise poverty of spirit, to obediently accept our innate poverty as human beings.
Johannes Baptist Metz, Poverty of Spirit
Liberate me, Father, from my self-centredness. Help me to see clearly the futility of trying to establish myself as worthy j before you. Help me to see others as people to love, rather than people to compete with, envy, or criticise. Grant to me I the freedom which comes from knowing that you come to me ~
in my frailty and fallenness.
When I turn from the path which you have called me to walk, confront me with my poverty and the futility of my strivings.
When I try to achieve my goals by an illegitimate use of power or position;
when I put someone down or question their worthiness;
when I seek security anywhere but in your care;
show me the blessedness of my destitution, and give me the courage to live precariously, trusting only in you.
Go forward into life with confidence in one thing alone - the blessedness which comes to those who abandon themselves in the presence of God. Accept your 'spiritual poverty' as a gift from God and rejoice in the freedom of destitution.
Still Waters Deep Waters, ed. Rowland Croucher, chapter 38.