Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Jesus' first sermon in Matthew begins with a series of blessings called the Beatitudes. To be blessed is, of course, to be fortunate, to have something for which one is thankful; it's good to be blessed. The first of these blessings is "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
That's difficult to understand. Who is Jesus declaring blessed? While Luke's "Sermon on the plain" might suggest the financially poor, in Matthew's gospel, there is no corresponding cursing of the rich as in Luke, and there's also a qualification: "in spirit."
We know what he means. Those who have lost reason to find joy, the depressed, Jesus calls them blessed. How can the pain and suffering that we want to avoid, or feel strongly tempted to push away, be a blessing?
From 2004-2005, I worked in an Oklahoma City hospital chaplain's office. Specifically, I worked with babies, kids, and patients awaiting organ transplants. You see a lot of death in that kind of work. You see a lot of pain and suffering that leads you to really think about your faith and why you/whether you still can believe it.
I became close to children with leukemia and patients waiting on a heart with little hope. I witnessed horrific tragedies: the aftermath of a drunk driver, patients tearfully asking their family not to intervene and let them die, and mothers weeping over their stillborn children. Those kinds of things stick with you.
These are the people who are "poor in spirit." I, also, am made "poor in spirit" when I remember the tears, the wailing, the irrational bargaining, and the pained acceptance. What blessing can be found in such profound loss? What light of joy can pierce such utter darkness? I genuinely ask this because I don't (not really) have it figured out. Yet I do think there is something in the second half of that first blessing: "for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
People who find themselves in the midst of profound loss truly know two things. First, they know what it really means to be poor in spirit. Second, they know that there is something not right about this world. This world, with its pain and death and loss, cannot be how the world is really meant to be.
And they're right.
This is the message of the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus came to proclaim.
The kingdoms of this world, the ones that began with the sin in the garden and the murder of a brother, are not how the world is meant to be. God, in Christ, came to establish a new and better kingdom. A Kingdom that will undo all the wickedness of this present evil age and replace it with His Kingdom where He "will wipe every tear... there will be no more death."
So if you find yourself in the midst of such darkness, or if you remember your own dark valley, and find that you, too, are "poor in spirit," don't dismiss it. Examine it honestly. Accept it for what it is. Know that it isn't right. And when you recognize that this isn't how it should be, I hope that you recall the words of Christ and remember, you are truly blessed in that moment.
Trey Medley grew up in Houston but went to college in Oklahoma, Alabama, and London before returning to Houston. He joined South Main in 2021 along with his wife, Sarah, and twin children in The 527 Tribe: Tate and Ellie. He currently works full-time as a college administrator and part time as a professor for some area seminaries as needed.