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"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3)

Jesus lowers his body to the grassy hillside, his disciples squatting around him and leaning in. Splitting his gaze between them and the crowd of curiosity seeking Jews just over their shoulders, he crosses his legs and announces, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,”

How strange. How insensitive to any Jewish seekers of the Messiah on the mountain. This is his first opportunity after all to make a good impression, to win them over to his revolution, to persuade them into becoming citizens of his kingdom. Such an enormous number of potential converts too, a multitude of Jews seeking a Messiah to fall in step behind. Why start like this, with poverty? He might as well have said, “My empire is only for the weak, the helpless losers, for the worthless and powerless.”

And well, that’s what He meant.

There are two words for “poor” Jesus could have used in his first blessing here in Mathew 5:3. Pen¯es describes a man who works for a living but has nothing more than he needs, nothing left over once he’s fed, housed and clothed himself. He’s not rich but he’s not in need either. He has just enough but most of us with more than enough would still call him poor. Pt¯ochos, on the other hand, the word spoken by Jesus here instead, is a more brutal picture of poverty. Beggars are Pt¯ochos. Abject poverty. Nothing to their name. No skill or opportunity to change their situation either. Empty belly and no way to fill it. Naked body and nothing to sew for it. Crippled flesh and no hope of medicine. Pt¯ochos comes from the word pt¯ossein literally meaning to crouch or cower like a beggar, so debilitated and inept that survival comes only by pleading on their knees for the crumbs and coins of a benevolent stranger.

Many Jews would have grimaced at this would-be Messiah’s declaration. The true Messiah was prophesied as a king from the family of David. He would be the strongest warrior, part man and part God. His sword would be swift and swung at their Roman oppressors. His empire would be the greatest the planet had ever seen. And when it was established God’s chosen glorious pure people the Jews would rule at his right hand and judge their enemies. He certainly wouldn’t let in the beggars. The Messiah wouldn’t surround himself with fishermen and sinners. His kingdom would be for people like them, the one’s who kept the law, knew their family tree, the respected and faithful, the spiritually superior and pious. They’d earned it.

But Jesus doesn’t welcome into his empire the spiritually pen¯es who believe the only thing they need from the Messiah is His muscle. His empire is for the spiritually pt¯ochos – the hopeless helpless spiritual beggars on all fours convinced they need everything from Jesus. The spiritually destitute - tried it all and got nowhere, at the end of their tattered rope, panhandlers at the gates of heaven – the mountainside Messiah hands the keys to his empire to these.


Anonymous Anonymous said...



Blogger Stephen said...

Is that from your upcoming book on the Beatitudes?

Anonymous Sonflower said...

This is where the rubber meets the road. If we're honest i think this what scares most of us...but no safer place to be.

Anonymous Chris Morris said...

Excellent -- reminds me of this poem (scroll down just a bit once you get there) called "Heaven's Rope" by Daniel Priest. Good inspiration.

Anonymous work ideas said...

Appreciated your thoughts.

Steve @

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been said that the New Testament contains a great deal of anti-Semitism. Since rabbinical Judaism of today is directly descended from the Pharisees, the Gospels putting down the Pharisees is seen as an example of anti-Semitism. The above comments discussing the Jewish Messiah are very disturbing. Remember, there is no way the Nazis could have succeed in killing so many Jews if it had been for centuries of Christian anti-Semitism.


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