Are You Poor in Spirit?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)

Have you ever wondered just what it means to be “poor in spirit”?  Or who these people who are “poor in spirit” are?  It is kind of important that we know because these are the people who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven!  If we want to to be these people, we need to know what it is that Jesus was asking us to do when he proclaimed the Beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus spends a lot of time comparing worldly examples to the Kingdom of Heaven so that we can understand, maybe just a little bit, what he means.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus goes up the mountain and sits down.  Now, you would think that if there were crowds of people, and Jesus had to go up a mountain in order to speak to them, that he would be standing.  He would want to be seen by all and be able to project his voice over the crowds, right? Wrong. He sits down in the traditional Jewish posture of a teacher.  Matthew 5:2 tells us, “He began to teach them,”  and us!  But, what was he trying to say?  What were they, and we, supposed to learn from his teaching?

In his book Divine Mercy, Stephen J. Binz states that this first of the Beautitudes “describe[s] our relationship with God.  The ‘poor in spirit’ are those who admit their poverty and acknowledge their total dependence on God.  Those who cultivate this trust in God will begin experiencing the kingdom of God in their present lives.”  The notes in the New American Bible, Revised Edition support this idea, saying that, “In the Old Testament, the poor (‘an awim) are those… whose confidence is in God… Matthew added in spirit in order… to extend the beatitude to all, of whatever social rank, who recognized their complete dependence on God.

When I read this reflection on the Beatitudes by Stephen J. Binz for the first time, it opened my eyes.  It stuck with me.  This first Beatitude means that the kingdom of God belongs to those who acknowledge their total dependence on God.  Of course.  Why didn’t I see it before?  How many times has Jesus said this in different ways?  He wants us to trust him and dependo-DAD-INFANT-facebook on him, his (and our) heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Later in chapter 18 of the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus telling about “The Greatest in the Kingdom”.  Jesus gives an example of just who these “poor in spirit” are – children! …and those who have child-like trust and dependence on God. “At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever received one child such as this in my name receives me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)

Jesus did not mean that only children can enter heaven.  He meant that we need to become like children. So what does this mean?  First, let’s think about the qualities of children.
They are totally dependent on their parents for every need:  food, clothing, shelter, parents sheltering childrenprotection, comfort,and guidance. When children need something, they go to their parents.  When they get an independent streak and try doing things on their own, they often get into trouble.  When my niece and nephew were toddlers, my sister’s time of greatest concern was when they were quiet because she would be concerned about what they had gotten into on their own.  This is how it is with God.  When we try to be completely independent, doing things without his help and guidance, we often get ourselves into trouble.

Isn’t THIS what Jesus is telling us?  If we are to be God’s children, we need to go to Him for every need.  We need to trust that he will take care of us.  Yes, we often go to him when we are struggling, in pain, and in need, and this is what he wants us to do.  But he wants us to do more.  In the morning offering prayer, we say, “I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day.”   He wants us to give Him everything… and TRUST that He will take care of it.  And he WILL give us everything, and then some!  In chapter 7, Matthew relates that Jesus assures us that, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)

Total dependence on God, that’s what it takes to be “poor in spirit” and inherit the kingdom of God.  In order to accomplish this, Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 6, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are not you more important than they?  Can any of you by worrying add a single momeParents_Stress_Line_605nt to your life-span?  Why are you anxious about clothes?  Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.  But I tell you than not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.  If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”  (Matthew 6:25-34)  In order to be “poor in spirit”, God wants us to let go of all worry and anxiety about the future.  Worry is not from God; trust is from God.  When we take His hand, we trust that He will not lead us astray.  When we recognize our total dependence on God, we realize that He’s got this.  He’s got it all.  We just need to depend on Him instead of on ourselves and our own efforts.

When we depend only on ourselves, we are not trusting in God.  We are handling things ourselves… just in case.  We want to feel secure.  We want to make sure we, and our families, are taken care of.  We want to know that our needs are met.  God wants all of these things for us, and more, but He wants us to depend on Him, not ourselves.  If we are truly “seek[ing] first the kingdom [of God]” (Matthew 6:33), we are putting our trust in God first and giving him everything – “our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day.”  We are trusting that “Father knows best” what we need, and so we have to trust that even now at this moment he is workchild holding fathers handing to make sure we have everything we need, even those things we ourselves don’t know we need.  As parents know, most often parents know better than children what is in their best interest.  This is but a tiny example of the way our heavenly Father knows better than us what is in our best interest.  Proverbs 3 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely.  In all you ways be mindful of Him, and He will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Blessed are those who have total dependence on God, for they will inherit the kingdom of God.  They are the “poor in spirit”.  Take God’s hand, and let Him lead you.  Be “poor in spirit”, and trust in Him.


Mercy, Me?

We could all use a little more mercy in our lives.  John Lennon and the Beatles sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  Compassion. Forgiveness.  Charity.  Sometimes we just need people to go a little easy on us, or we need a little help along the way.

Pope Francis declared that the year from December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016 is an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  This is, by virtue of the name, EXTRAordinary!  He opened the Holy Doors in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on December 8, 2015 to usher in a year when we are more conscious of extending mercy, forgiveness, and charity toward others.  In the weeks afterwards, cardinals and bishops opened Holy Doors in cathedrals, basilicas, and shrines all over the world, encouraging us to open wide the doors of mercy in our own lives, everywhere, throughout the world.  But now that this Extraordinary Year of Mercy is more than half over, what can we say have we done that is EXTRAordinary?  How have we gone out of our way to show mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and charity to our family, friends, neighbors, and, yep, even strangers?

In Luke 10: 29-37, a scholar asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” We all know the Greatest Commandments stated by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”  The scholar knew that this was written in Mosaic law, and he, too was able to rattle off the Golden Rule.  But the question he intended to trip Jesus up often trips us up, too; just WHO is my neighbor?  Who am I supposed to be loving, and forgiving, and showing mercy towards?

forgiveSometimes it is difficult to be forgiving and charitable towards those we love.  Sometimes we are better at doing this with people we like… or we might decide that, for this reason or that, we don’t like certain people, and we may choose not to forgive or be charitable toward them…ever.  When the scholar asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus went even farther beyond our literal neighbors.  He told the story of the Good Samaritan.

Now, Samaritans were, for ethnic and religious reasons, despised by the Jews.  The Samaritans were considered ritually impure by the Jews, and Jews would have nothing to do with them.  A modern-day analogy might be the sentiments of a member of ISIS toward a Christian.  So, with this historical background, here’s the story:

“A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back. ‘Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”  He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

So, we are supposed to be forgiving and compassionate toward those we hate?  Yep.

Why is it so hard to be nice to others?  One reason might be that it takes humility.  We have to put ourselves and our pride aside in order to really “forgive and forget”.  We might have to swallow our anger, hurt, or resentment.  This is HARD!  When we ask a small child to say they are sorry or to forgive their brother or sister, they don’t want to.  They might avert their eyes, having difficulty even making eye contact, let alone saying the words, “I am sorry” or “I forgive you”.  Are we that much different?  Are we better at forgiveness after all these years, or have we grown more stingy with our mercy?  Do we pick and choose who our “neighbor” is or who our “brother” or “sister” is, only being merciful to certain ones, but not others?  

And, Jesus tells us not to only forgive once, but always.  In Matthew 18:21-22,  “Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’  Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.'”

OK, so 77 times, and then I am DONE forgiving that person, right?  WRONG.  In the Bible, seven is the number of completeness and perfection, so SEVENTY-SEVEN times means over and over again, as many times as it takes.  Even when it’s hard.  Even when we have to humble ourselves and swallow our pride to do it.  We need to forgive completely… everyone… every time.

Man and woman holding hands at a table

The point of this EXTRAordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is to make us EXTRA aware of being merciful – forgiving, compassionate, charitable – toward everyone in all we do and say.  Everyone remembers the famous line from Pope Francis in 2013, ” who am I to judge that person?”  God is the just judge, so we can leave that part to Him.  In the meantime, we can focus on healing hurts, breaking down the barriers that divide us, and offering friendship and kindness.

Now, how will you show EXTRAordinary mercy toward your neighbor?  And just who is your neighbor?  Figure it out, and start “mercy-ing”!