Blessed are the poor in spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:3

The Heaven Room, Burghley House.  © Copyright Derek Voller and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The Heaven Room, Burghley House. © Copyright Derek Voller and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I once found myself caught in the midst of a rather tricky situation in our school. The Head of Lower School announced his retirement, and the Headmaster advertised the vacancy within our school. One of my friends (we’ll call him Roger), who had put in many years of distinguished service, including well over a decade as a form tutor in the Lower School, applied for the post. Roger was convinced that he would be given the job. He felt that he was entitled to the job. Meanwhile, another friend (we’ll call her Jennifer), who had only worked in the school for a couple of years, and was a Sixth Form tutor, also applied. When Jennifer got the job, Roger was absolutely furious. He was convinced that there had been behind the scenes machinations that led to him being passed over for the job that he felt was rightfully his. Of course, there was nothing of the sort. Jennifer got the job because she had proven herself to be a good candidate and got the job entirely on merit.

I often come across people like Roger in the context of gaining salvation. People tell me that, since ‘my’ God is loving, and they have led a good life, they will get into heaven. Other people seem to think that because they have given money to the church, or chaired the PCC, or led services, their place in heaven is assured. They believe that they are entitled to their place in God’s kingdom. Of course, these people might well have gained their salvation, but if they have, it certainly isn’t because of anything that they have done.

The first beatitude must have come as a bit of a wake up call for Jesus’ listeners, and indeed it should to us too. It is the ‘poor in spirit’ who will find their way into God’s kingdom. The poor in spirit are those who acknowledge their weaknesses, who accept that they are nothing more than wretched sinners, who accept that they are absolutely nothing if they do not crawl to the cross of Christ for forgiveness. If we want to be assured of our salvation, if we wish to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven – both in this life and the next – then we must confront our own weakness and our own failings. We must turn to Christ and admit that without him we are worthless, and ask for him to have mercy on us. We must accept that it is only through a genuine relationship with him that our future hope is secure.

Jesus’ statement that it is the poor in spirit who have a claim on the kingdom of heaven should be seen not just as a statement, but as an urgent call to us all to examine ourselves closely. Are we ‘poor in spirit’? Do we approach Christ aware of our own wretchedness? Do we pledge everything we have, everything we are, to serving him? It is worth reflecting on this today and in the weeks ahead.

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