There are parallel versions of the first Beatitude, words that Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples. The first appears in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The second version is found in Luke 6:20. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (NIV)
The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous. Scholars say that Matthew, as a good Jew, would not want to use the holy name “God”. So here we have blessings for the ‘poor in spirit’ and the ‘poor’. There is really nothing blessed in being poor and living in the consequences of that poverty. So there is something else going on here. ‘Poor in spirit’ means spiritual poverty. Both mean scarcity of that which makes life flourish. So let’s consider another way of looking at these.
Some people like to think that the Beatitudes are Jesus’ challenge for people to climb some kind of spiritual ladder towards maturity; get to a place of spiritual poverty they suggest, or be grateful you don’t have a lot of material things. A friend who accompanied me on a trip to Haiti told the people that they were truly blessed because they didn’t have the distractions of material things that Americans have. Those words did not play well to the Haitian audience.
Late author and teacher Dallas Willard suggested that Jesus was probably wandering through the crowds saying to this one and that one, “You are fortunate (blessed) because the kingdom has come for you just as much as anyone else. Blessed are you spiritual nobodies. Christ has come for you too.” Jesus does away with any sense of hierarchy or reward or even law. He is simply saying that no matter who you are or what your circumstances are at this moment; rejoice because you are loved by God. His presence, his kingdom is here for you. There is no exclusion in the kingdom of God. Whether we are poor of goods or poor of spirit we belong to God.
We may be sick or healthy, gay or straight, republican or democrat. None of that matters. The kingdom of God is for all to enter. We might be bad or good. The kingdom is here for us. Certainly Jesus will have challenges for his disciples but these are not them. The whole world is blessed. Thanks be to God because there are people who think their circumstances in life exclude them. And in Luke you will see some circumstances of the proud and rich and arrogant that may well keep them guessing as to their place. But in kingdom reality all are welcomed, all are in for what God’s kingdom offers. That is the unconditional love of God. Even while we were enemies of God Christ died for us. Who could possibly be left out?