The economy has been in the news lately. Everyone’s talking about new tax laws, new infrastructure spending and the stock market. But here’s something no one talks about: the advantages of being poor! Who wants to be poor? No one. Poor never sounds good, does it? In fact, a lot of people are working very hard to avoid being poor!
Why then does Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”? Welcome to the economy of God’s kingdom! The economy of God’s kingdom uses different “money,” counts success differently, and has different rules of the game. In God’s economy, if someone asks for your coat, you give them your cloak too. In that economy, you sell all you have and give it away. In that economy, you win by losing and lose by winning.
Christians find themselves playing by one set of rules with their own unique objectives, but immersed in a culture with another set of rules and another set of objectives. When they think they’re “winning,” we know they’re losing, and when they think we’re crazy, we know we’re wise. It’s as though our neighbors are playing Monopoly while we’re playing Risk — different games, different rules, different winners.
So when Jesus challenges his listeners by stating that the poor in spirit are blessed, Christians just kind of grin to themselves; we expected Him to say something strangely upside down like that. We already knew about the inverse relationship between what “the world” values and collects and that which Christians value and collect.
But hold on. This is different. Jesus isn’t talking here about our finances. He’s not applauding those who have correctly known how to administer their worldly goods for kingdom purposes. This is something different. He’s talking here about a spiritual poverty! How can that be good? Shouldn’t we want to be “rich in spirit”?
Well, yes, of course. But again, God’s economy is different. In God’s economy, none of the richness comes from ourselves. In His economy, we are not the sources of our spiritual wealth, it all comes from Him. We simply make way for it by opening up space for Him. This is a critical difference. The richness does not come from us, but we open to it.
This beatitude parallels Jesus’ parable about what happens when an evil spirit is cleansed from a person. Jesus says that because of the emptiness of that person, the demon may return with seven other demons and the ending condition of the person is worse off than their initial condition. In both that parable and this beatitude, the person’s emptiness creates the perfect environment for spiritual infilling; the one demonic, the other divine.
The riches of His spirit are available for us, but it’s only when we confess our own poverty that we can accept those riches. It’s only when we recognize that the kingdoms of this world are but poor images of the brilliance of the kingdom of heaven that we desire His kingdom, not these kingdoms. And it’s only out of our destitute desperation that we accept the refreshment of the true riches of the Holy Spirit.
God’s rich Spirit cannot be ours if we’re filled with our own spirit. His Spirit requires an emptying of our own spiritual sufficiency.
One of the buzzwords of “secular spirituality” is “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is like prayer but without God on the other end. Mindfulness is exactly what Jesus is warning against … being full of ourselves — so full, that there’s no room for Him. In God’s economy, that self-fullness is a true poverty for which the only solution is an emptying.
And that emptying, that being “poor in spirit,” gives us His kingdom and the riches of His economy.
Bishop David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.