“Blessed Poor People?”
Matthew 5:1-5 (5:3) – July 3, 2022
What do you do when a friend or loved one has big feelings? I mean, when someone you love is super sad, or super upset, or super angry?
So many of us feel overwhelmed sometimes. Feelings can be oversized, huge, bigger than big! Overwhelming emotions and feelings can make a person feel like a ton of bricks has just fallen on them. What is a person to do? Does your family have a special remedy for this kind of huge, overwhelming emotional impact? What do you do if your child – or grandchild – is feeling really down and has huge feelings they don’t know what to do with?
Our Lord Jesus talks about just this kind of feeling when He gives us His first Beatitude. You remember the Beatitudes, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, early in the Gospel of Matthew. The Rabbi Jesus has just been getting a lot of press about being a miracle worker and a marvelous teacher, and people have been flocking to hear Him and see Him from miles around.
When the Lord Jesus has the big opportunity to teach a large crowd, what does He lead off with but “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! I kind of know what blessed means, and I understand that there are poor people in the world, but what kind of a topic sentence is that? What do you mean, leading off Your big sermon with a confusing idea like this? What gives, Jesus?
Our summer sermon series is called “Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus.” That title certainly applies to this first Beatitude! How on earth are poor people blessed? But, wait. Jesus didn’t say “poor people.” He said people who were (are) “poor in spirit.”
Have you ever had a time when you were down and just wanted things to feel better, for just a little while? I suspect we all feel poor in spirit sometimes.
Our Lord Jesus was well aware of the hurts and pains of the people listening to Him. Not only their physical hurts and pains, because Jesus was a marvelous, miraculous healer! But, also their mental, emotional and psychological hurts and pains, too.
Our Lord Jesus did not place these Beatitudes in a random, haphazard manner. He was very deliberate in the order, in His placement of the different blessings God bestows. We may say there is a logical order in these Beatitudes. Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, and this first blessing is a key to all that follows.
We can think of a “kingdom” as the way the world (or the country) works or is set up. In God’s kingdom, there is abundance! Everyone has more than enough honor, and food, love, power and resources for everyone – that means every single person – to live and thrive. What’s more, according to our Lord, all who enter into the kingdom of heaven are poor in spirit. That means an emptying of sorts.
As the wonderful theologian and preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells us, being poor in spirit “is a fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven.”  In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows His listeners how to be filled with the manifestation of heaven – of God. But, how are we to be filled with heavenly things if we are not first emptied of worldly things? The worldly, self-centered, all-for-myself attitude?
Jesus and the other citizens of Palestine of the first century were definitely oppressed. The Roman empire was ruling over them, and the people in charge of the local and regional government demanded a lot of taxes. This was not only the money the common folk earned, but also the crops the Jewish people grew and a share of the animals they raised. People were already struggling to provide for themselves and their family. Plus, when they could not pay the taxes the Roman government expected, the Jewish people lost most of what they owned.  They were an oppressed nation under an oppressive regime.
Have you ever felt trapped, sad, worried things might never get better? Worried that tomorrow would be just like today, or maybe even worse? That sounds so much like what the people in first-century Palestine were dealing with, every day! Little wonder so many people flocked to hear the message of hope, healing and blessing from the Rabbi Jesus!
This Topsy Turvy Teaching of Jesus is just the beginning of the Beatitudes. Sure, Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit are truly happy, the ones who are truly blessed by God. Not the people who in this world seem to have it all, know it all, or have all the power. Those worldly, puffed up, self-centered, power-hungry people are going to be skipped over by God.
Try clenching your hands to make fists. A fist is a sign of power and strength, isn’t it? But, when our fists are closed tight, we cannot receive anything new, anything of positive value, anything to nurture and to help grow. However, let us open our hands on our lap with palms facing up. This is a physical way to remind us all that we are open to God.  We depend on God, and need to be open to learning, growing and changing. We need to empty ourselves of worldly, puffed up, self-centered and power-hungry attitudes that are so common in the world today.
What would Jesus do? Would Jesus be selfish, self-centered and grasping for power and attention? How would Jesus treat the people on the edges of society, the single moms, the elderly without children, the outcast ones, and the friendless? How does Jesus treat you and me? Jesus welcomes the poor in spirit. Jesus welcomes you, and He welcomes me, too.
For ours is the kingdom of heaven. Alleluia, amen!
(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)
 Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.
 Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 42-43.
 Illustrated Ministries.