You may have heard the verse ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,’ but it’s not always immediately clear what that is. Poverty in the modern world comes in a number of different forms, as does the relief from the ailments of poverty. Nowadays, people have welfare, low wage jobs, flailing businesses and other avenues to try and keep food on the table while still living below the poverty line. Surprisingly few resort to begging; this is considered an unnecessary humiliation outside of life and death except for those homeless people at intersections, apparently).
In Jesus’ day there wasn’t welfare or low wage jobs… begging was the key identifier of the poor. In fact, the word for ‘poor’ in Matthew 5 and in Luke 6 evokes the idea of crouching, cringing, or of being hunched over. Maybe because people look down on them; maybe because being poor is bad. Maybe the hunching and crouching, and cringing was an attempt to beg while hiding, to make the offense of suffering less of a burden to those who were better off One doesn’t have to have a degree in Greek to put this together. We look at the poor people in the Bible, they are begging, or receiving charity. There aren’t a lot of EBT cards to be found, as you might imagine.
So a more modernized verse might be “Blessed are those who are so poor that they have to beg,”. This interpretation doesn’t seem to sit as well with people. This problem of the poor being reduced to begging seems hopeless. Those who have to beg are poor, and being poor is bad. Always… except when Jesus is involved.
In His opening revelation from His first big sermon, Jesus upends the economic order by saying that beggars have a blessing others don’t, and particularly that ‘Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’
Now we reviewed in a previous blog that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is in people who have Jesus sitting on the throne of their hearts. The New Jerusalem, with streets of gold and all that in Revelation has a temple in the middle, not a throne. In short, you are the throne.
So, what makes it so likely that beggars will receive Jesus in this way? Well, the answer is relatively obvious: they will beg for it, like they do everything else they need, instead of try to earn it. They have accepted that they have no power within themselves to change their situation. They have had much practice in humility. So what can we learn from what Jesus is saying? It’s good when you are aware of what you lack because then you will ask for Jesus to rule your life. What do you have to lose when you know you have nothing? This lines up with other things Jesus teaches. This is why it is difficult for those who are wealthy to be saved (Matt 19:23). The rich are unfamiliar with debasing themselves, of feeling powerlessness. “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and your physical needs will be met” (Matt 6:33). Not added by yourself, but by your Father in heaven. Unless we humble ourselves like children (who ask for everything), we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3).
We must learn to beg. We must learn to plead. Not for alms or coins, but for presence of the Holy Spirit.