November 18, 2019

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

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

According to Fr. Daniel Harrington, S.J (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Matthew, pp.78), “the beatitudes should be read against the Old Testament tradition of God’s special care for the poor.” (see Ex 22:25-27, 23:11; Lev 19:9-10; Dt 15:7-11; Is 61:1)  “From the time of the composition of the Psalms, ‘the poor’ had been understood as a characterization of the true people of God, those who know their lives are not in their own control and they are dependent upon God. The exact phrase, poor in spirit, was not found in any extant Jewish literature until it emerged in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community (1QM 14:7) which understood itself as the remnant, the true people of God over and against the Jerusalem hierarchy. What is at stake in the phrase for both Qumran and Matthew is neither economics nor spirituality, but the identity of the people of God- a Matthean theme.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, pp.178)

In reference to the kingdom of heaven, “the kingdom refers to God’s reign or sovereignty. The term, heaven, is a Jewish substitute for God (see 1 Maccabees), apparently intended to avoid using the term, God, too freely.” (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Matthew, pp.79)  This phrase will also be found in the eighth beatitude (Mt 5:10). “Every person is created to reflect a commitment to the plan God originally envisioned for the world. This commitment grows from a religious experience and evidences itself in a new, simple lifestyle. ‘Make it your practice instead to store up heavenly treasure, which neither moths nor rust corrode nor thieves break in and steal.’ (Mt 6:20)  The final part of the first wisdom saying of this section is based on the traditional way of reversal and contrast. It flows from the assumption that wealth assumes an authority over people. Consequently, some may become so preoccupied in seeking to amass power, possessions, and prestige that they no longer can experience God in the depth of their being. ‘Remember, where your treasure is, there your heart is also.’ (Mt 6:21)” (Spirituality of the Beatitudes: Matthew’s Challenge for First World Christians, Michael Crosby O.F.M. Cap., pp.60)

In our own day, economists, sociologists, and government officials claim that, through statistical analysis, they are able to identify the poor. Through that lens, our position above or below the poverty line neatly resolves the issue. Perhaps, however, our openness to heavenly aspirations is the better indicator. In this regard, Father Ronald Knox has noted:

“Poor in spirit refers, not precisely to humility, but to an attitude of dependence on God and detachment from earthly supports.”

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Written by
Deacon Kurt Godfryd

REVEREND MR. KURT GODFRYD is editor of Catholic Journal and a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Married and the father of five children, Deacon Kurt was ordained to the diaconate on October 4, 2008 by His Eminence Adam Cardinal Maida and is assigned to St. Clement of Rome parish in Romeo, Michigan. A native Detroiter, he was educated at the Jesuit-run University of Detroit Mercy, where he received a B.S. in finance, M.B.A., and M.A. in economics. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where he earned an M.A. in pastoral ministry.

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Written by Deacon Kurt Godfryd
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