Wednesday, May 03, 2017

"Blessed are the poor in spirit": encountering one of God's "little ones"


The Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10)

[Jesus] said:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


At the invitation/inspiration of my friend and fellow blogger Elliott Blackwell (see his post on the subject here), I am going to spend time studying the Beatitudes for the rest of 2017. 

There are eight months left in the year, and eight Beatitudes, so my aim is to focus on one each month. I don't really have any firm plan beyond that, but I do want to do some reading and writing about the Beatitudes and explore more deeply how I might observe and live out each of these statements in my own life. This won't be the only thing I'll be writing about here on the blog, of course; but I do hope to share a few of my reflections as I go along.

These eight statements of Jesus are paradoxical, confusing, comforting, and disturbing. Right from the very first one, they seem to turn reality upside down, forcing us to take notice:

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

As I was pondering this statement yesterday, an incident came to mind that I've written about before on this blog as part of my "Checkout-Line Encounters" series. It was an encounter with an old man and a young woman at the grocery store a few years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. I even wrote a poem about it:



Treasure

He stood in the grocery store line –
old face etched, smile gnome-like –
waiting for his items to move along
the belt, like all he had was time.

His cart was blocking a young woman,
who said curtly, "I need to get by here.”
He moved aside, mumbling to himself,
a private amusement twitching on his lips.

One of his boxes fell to the floor, and
I picked it up. Vachon caramel cakes –
I used to love those! Maybe I saw him,
at that moment, as a kindred spirit.

"I think these are yours,” I said. He took
the box from me, but made no reply.
The young woman snickered, "I don't think
he has a clue what's going on,” and walked off.

I don't know which way either of them went
when they left the store. But I imagined her
fifty years from now, feeble, mortified by
the contempt of a young person without patience.

And I imagined him tottering merrily home
to an underground lair, where he’d open the box
and eat his treasured cakes, laughing away
at some secret joke.



I share the incident again here because it strikes me as a living example of Jesus' "poor in spirit" pronouncement.

The 17th-century Bible commentator Matthew Henry characterizes "poor in spirit" as a state of humble self-denial: "Those who would build high must be brought low," he says. The old man I saw in the store seemed to be the epitome of poor in spirit. He was low -- in both status and stature. By all appearances he was not well-off financially, nor did he seem to have it all together intellectually. He was physically slow. To the young woman, he was barely worth consideration: she was impatient with him, talking disrespectfully at him as if he wasn't even there. 

Yet he seemed to be the blessed one, in comparison. The woman's unkindness made no lasting impression on him; he was focused on the task at hand. He was unhurried and unhurry-able. He looked happy. As I say in the poem, I imagined him taking great delight in those delicious caramel cakes. The simple pleasures of life seemed to be enough for him.

How ironic that, as Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. If that's so, then this strange old fellow was far closer to the kingdom than the young woman, who was so attractive, efficient, and capable looking. 

Matthew Henry's commentary says this about those who are poor in spirit:

"God looks graciously upon them. They are his little ones, and have their angels. To them he gives more grace; they live the most comfortable lives, and are easy to themselves and all about them, and nothing comes amiss to them." 

I would not be at all surprised if most of the people who get ignored, forgotten, and shoved aside in our world are included among the poor in spirit. Yet God sees them as blessed and looks on them with grace.
 



12 comments:

  1. I love this post, Jeannie, and I can't tell you how much I LOVE the poem! In addition to the shoved aside and forgotten, I've always thought of the "poor in spirit" as the people so desperate they don't have anywhere or anything to turn to except for Jesus. That's not a blessing we usually think to ask for.

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    1. That's for sure, Lisa. I was thinking, how in this post I am talking about someone ELSE who is poor in spirit -- but of course it also applies to me. I don't think I'm going to be able to get away with meditating on this beatitude for a whole month without seeing myself in it. Thanks so much for coming by to read this!

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  2. Ah: your poem!! Love this, and love this project <3

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    1. Thank you so much, Bronwyn, and for sharing this on Twitter too.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, April.

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  4. Oh my gosh - that poem. It painted a picture that made me think of the beatitude in a new way. Thank you. I've been that impatient young women, and am becoming more and more that sweet-loving young man as I age. You've pained a powerful picture for us.

    Can't wait to read the rest of this series.

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    1. I've been her too, Michelle -- and I can't say it was only when I was young, either. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

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  5. That poem aptures a moment in the life of one poor in spirit indeed, Jeannie. I feel so sorry for the young woman who thought herself entitled to getting her own way right away.

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    1. Me too, Tim. That is not a nice way to go through life.

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  6. I love you poem, Jeannie. So sad about the young woman's attitude. Although I like to think I'd never say out LOUD something that unkind, I think disparaging thoughts about others all the time. May the Lord make me see how poor in spirit I really am!

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, Betsy. I am not immune to this sort of attitude at all, And yes, I think recognizing our own poverty of spirit, not just someone else's, is key.

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