WHO ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT?
READINGS: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Sermon of the Mount is usually seen as a sequence of pronouncements made by our Lord as He declares blessedness on a variety of attributes. But it is important to note that these attributes are not independent. They are characteristics of the blessedness of those who are “poor in spirit”. The poor in spirit, as referred to here, is a disposition of the human heart toward God and neighbor. Yes, wealth can create a sense of independence, reliance on human strength, and even look-warmness toward eternal things. Likewise, poverty can also create antagonism toward God, loss of hope and faith, ill-feeling towards other, coupled with jealousy and envy. So, poverty of spirit is not about material lack; it is an internal disposition, a desire for God above all things. What are the attributes of being poor in spirit?
The Sermon on the Mount describes them as the “meek”. Meekness is not weakness or wimpiness. Rather, it is an attribute of those who are not pretentious, not easily provoked, or overbearing; the teachable and ability to own up to mistakes with a sincere heart; willingness to be in the service of others and to acknowledge the accomplishments of others. It is to fear God rather than man and to be submissive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit; to be ready to forgive and to be reconciled with God, self, and others. The poor in spirit are also described as those who “mourn”—lamenting over the plight of those on the margins of society—the poor and the homeless, the needy and the orphan, refugees and immigrants—and are disposed to do what they can to alleviate this pain.
The poor in spirit are also described as those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness”— those who want to act as God would want us to live; those who make their souls receptive to the voice and message of the gospel and are not afraid to bear witness to it. The poor in spirit are also described as those who are “merciful”— being patient with others, helping those who are hurting, giving people a second chance, doing good and being kind even to the enemy, reaching out to the downtrodden, and valuing relationships over rules.
Also, the poor in spirit are described as those who “are clean of heart”—what they profess in faith is what they practice in life; no duplicity, slander, or deceit is to be found in their mouth; they are purified in their character, thoughts, emotions, and daily motives.
The poor in spirit are also said to be “peacemakers”. A Peacemaker is different from a peacekeeper. A peacekeeper keeps peace out of fear through avoidance while a peacemaker restores peace out of strength through reconciliation. Peacemakers have a genuine love for others, build trust in relationships, identify and address conflicts, seek understanding with controlled anger, speak the truth with love, and are not overcome by fear.
So, to be poor in spirit is not about material wealth; it is about true discipleship; living according to kingdom principles; living in such a way as to be the hand of God bringing healing to our broken world. May the good Lord grant us the grace to be counted among those declared blessed because they are “poor in spirit”, Amen!