The Beatitudes. One of the most counter-culture and counter-intuitive passages that I have ever read. Before I delve into the first verse, I want to quickly take a look at Jesus’ purpose for these Beatitudes. This is the opening act, if you will, of His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, but it is something that is often overlooked so that we can get to the “better” parts of it that are very clearly applicable to our lives. In the past few months, God has repeatedly been bringing this passage to my attention and showing me just how important it is for my daily life and spiritual growth. Jesus opens His sermon, which ended up being very contrary to popular opinion, with these seemingly contrasting truths. He wants you to see that not everything is as it seems—our understanding of things is so very far from reality.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
This Beatitude was the one that I always found most confusing. What does it mean to be poor in spirit? We do not often think of being poor as a blessing (otherwise college students would be considered blessed beyond reason). However, Jesus is saying here that we are blessed when we have absolutely nothing to offer. Blessed are we when we are so broken that we have nothing but our brokenness to bring to Jesus. Blessed are you who are shattered and can barely stand. We like to be strong, because, well, who wouldn’t? Still, a very painful fact remains: we are all broken. Kyle Idleman points out in his book The End of Me that we can only become whole when we recognize our brokenness. We are all broken, but “there are too many voices telling us to keep up appearances, because if we don’t, our life will fall apart”. We cannot admit to ourselves (much less anyone else) that we are broken, but the truth is that the only way that we can be whole is to be broken and admit it.
I have several times heard this illustration used and it is so fitting every time. Kintsugi is a Japanese art form involving broken pottery. The cracks in the vases and other objects are not only repaired, but they are highlighted with gold. One source says that “as a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.” Wow. How beautiful is that? It reminds me of one of my favorite passages in the Old Testament—Jeremiah 18.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. – Jeremiah 18:1-4
Your brokenness and my brokenness are not something to be ashamed of. They are what makes us whole. When we realize that we have nothing to offer Jesus, we approach the throne of grace humbly and with thanksgiving because of all that he has done for us. When we realize that we have nothing to offer Jesus, we are blessed, for it is then that we are poor in spirit.
Brokenness is not a one-time thing, either. We are not broken and then made whole and remain whole. Paul is a perfect example of this. On his way to persecute Christians, God stops him on the road and appears as a blinding light—literally blinding. He is brought very low; he has lost his sight, his pride, and his certainty. He now realizes how blind he has been all along and we see an interesting paradox. Though he is now blind, he can see better than ever before. Sometimes God uses major calamities like that to grab our attention and show us where we have gone wrong and to show us our brokenness. So then Paul turns his life around and is totally fine forever, right? Actually no. In 2 Corinthians 12, he records another time that he was kept humble by an affliction. He prayed three times for the “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, but the Lord answered him by saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). My point in all of this is that being poor in spirit is not about us—it is about God’s glory shining through us. Paul’s reaction to this answer is priceless. I’m going to leave you with these verses:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.