What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
In the Old Testament, the term ‘the poor’ began merely as an assessment of one’s assets – those who didn’t have any assets were “the poor”. What is the experience of the poor? The poor have no wealth and as such are vulnerable. Their future exists on the knife’s edge of current circumstances which are totally out of their control. They are at risk. Walking on a tightrope with no net. The poor have little or no power over their lives and are often taken advantage of rather than cared for.
As scripture continued to compile, the poor became known as those who have nothing except God himself and who, therefore, become utterly reliant on Him. God showed himself to be the defender of the defenseless and the provider to the one in need. When those who were seldom cared for received God’s promise to care for them, they became known for placing themselves completely in God’s hands. They had no other option and they knew it, but the God of the universe made Himself available to them.
So when Jesus talked about being poor in spirit, he extols humble, complete, even desperate reliance on God from those who know they have nothing else other than God and His promises.
Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
In many ways Jesus pronounces a blessing that is a summary of all the other blessings. It’s the only blessing pronounced twice, at the beginning and end of the beatitudes. The kingdom of heaven is a term Matthew often uses to describe the fullness of the glory, comfort, and joy that denotes eternity in the presence of God. Jesus pronounces that those who have nothing and are vulnerable, possess everything and are secure.
To Be ‘Poor’ In Marriage
In my work with couples I would say the average conflict can be roughly boiled down to the fact that both parties are asking some version of the question: “Are you on my side? Because if you’re not on my side, bad things will happen.” Both parties want to know that their spouse will care for them instead of taking advantage of them, but during the conflict they want to KNOW, to feel secure, that the other person is for them, is on their side, before they take the risk of being vulnerable.
I often picture this dynamic as two people in two separate bunkers, heavily armed with weapons honed in on the no-man’s-land between them. Both parties know they are safe as long as they stay in their bunker, so they both demand the other person take the risk of crossing no-man’s-land. They both are left waiting for the other person to make the first move. So in their separate bunkers, they remain. They, like the poor, feel vulnerable, at risk, uncared for, uncertain. It means they don’t leave the security of their bunker to move toward the other person and enable resolution and reconciliation.
To that couple, Jesus speaks this blessing. To that person in marriage conflict who feels uncared for and vulnerable, Jesus says: you have all the belonging and security of being a member of the kingdom of heaven. Either or both members of that couple in conflict can take the risk to enter no-man’s-land and start the journey toward their spouse because, though they are at risk, though the other person might take advantage of their vulnerability, though it feels like they walk on the tightrope of not knowing whether they will be cared for or attacked, Jesus says: “Rely, not on them, but on me. I will care for you even if they don’t. If I am all you have out there in no-man’s-land, you have everything.” With the fullness of the blessing of the kingdom of heaven in and with them, the spouse who walks through marriage conflict bearing the weight of the poor is freed to truly love the other as Christ loved us.