What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? Poor in spirit means that you feel you have no moral riches and are in need. You feel you need a ‘spiritual’ life. ‘Poor’ (πτωχός) used in this verse means ‘reduced to being a beggar’. Am I begging for a rich spiritual life?
Fortunate (aka Blessed) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Jesus
Matthew 5:3 (English Standard Version)
I need to recognize I need what I don’t have. To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge my spiritual poverty, indeed my spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For I have missed God’s goal (aka sin), under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God.
I have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven.
But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner! (aka missing God’s goal)
This makes sense and we can confirm its meaning by comparing other statements of Jesus, for he often said the same things in many ways. One good match that seems to bring light to the phrase is:
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
(NIV Mark 2:16-17)
When I feel I am missing God’s goal (aka sin) or ‘morally sick’ and I cry out to Jesus to be saved, I am ‘poor in spirit’ then I can inherit God’s kingdom. If I am self-righteous, morally confidant and rich, these Jesus cannot save me.
This makes sense that Jesus would make this the first be-attitude of a disciple because it is by being poor in spirit or ‘reduced to being a beggar’. That I actually ‘begin’ my discipleship with this explains why it is the first be-attitude. It also fits and explains the second attitude of mourning which is the other side of the same coin. It naturally follows for me, as a disciple, once recognizing my poverty due to missing God’s goal, l mourn on account of it.
Good news: God will make me happy, or ‘bless’ me with inexpressible spiritual riches and joy. This is the core message of the good news that Jesus brings to us all.