For most of my life I’ve not really understood Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s all there in black and white, but it seems so counterintuitive, it hasn’t made sense.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he says, and right off the bat, I’m full of questions.
- What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
- How is that like being poor?
- Why are they particularly blessed as opposed to some other group?
- How are they blessed?
- Aren’t you blessed if you are rich in spirit?
Here’s the first line of the first and most thorough sermon Jesus preached, and already I’m struggling to keep up.
And then Jesus adds, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What?? What is the kingdom of heaven – is that heaven or earth? Why do the poor in spirit get it and not someone else? It’s hard to be Jesus’ disciple. And then when you look at the first thing a lot of us Christians say to people (about sin and salvation and praying a one-and-done prayer), it really gets me confused. Jesus didn’t start there.
As I’ve tried to understand what Jesus was talking about, what’s helped me is to watch World Racers go through their year.
Most of them start out anything but poor in spirit. Their parents have worked hard to provide them with the best education possible. They’ve tried to protect them from harm as much as possible. They have little experience with failure.
And then the process of abandoning that life and becoming a vagabond for a year gradually undoes them. Leaving home, family, jobs, and friends behind equips them with a poverty they never lived in before. And eventually, it catches up with their spirit. It wears on them. They begin to break and change.
In short, they transform from the protected elite to the poor in spirit. It’s a hard transition, but it forces them to their knees. They begin to call out to God in new ways. In their newly humbled state, aware of their need, they begin to seek God with a new desperation.
If he doesn’t show up, they are toast. Their own resources aren’t enough – their spiritual shelves are empty. And in that place of need, God shows up and reorders the economy of their lives.
The things that used to have value – clothes, cars, status and comfort – are no longer so attractive. But in this place of spiritual poverty, racers experience the presence of God in a new way. They see the kingdom in a new light, maybe for the first time. And what a blessing that is! Wow – to begin to see the world as God does, to prioritize things as he does – that can be an incredible blessing.
Broken, undone, poor in spirit, but blessed by God. Seeing things as they are. Understanding how he redeems pain and feeling him love you through it. It can be overwhelming.
It’s taken a while, but I’m beginning to understand what Jesus was talking about. He compares the kingdom to a treasure, a pearl of great price. I’m beginning to understand why it’s so costly. I’ve still got questions, but I’m starting to get a few answers.