Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time | “Blessed are the poor in spirit”

Posted on February 13, 2023 View all Gospel Reflection

However important depending on God is and accepting his will, this is only half of what it means to be poor in spirit and if we stop here with this meaning we are left with an impoverished, standard evangelical Christian explanation of “to be poor in spirit.” The other, more important meaning, is that there will be a coming reversal of circumstances for those who are unfortunate, the marginalized, the abused, those who live in poverty, so these beatitudes are not just virtues to attain in this life.

The beatitudes is “a matter both of the “now” and the “not yet”—glimmers now, fullness then—or, “Grace here, and glory thereafter when Christ comes again. [cf. Reading the Beatitudes in the Company of Others, Rebekah A. Eklund, The Covenant Quarterly (Online), 79 no 1 2021 p 4-18]. 

For the well-off and the well-adjusted the Beatitudes are a challenge to how we welcome and treat others less fortunate than we are. As Helmut Theilike observed, “Love always seizes the eyes first and then the hand. If I close my eyes, my hands, too, remain unemployed. And finally my conscience, too, falls asleep, for this disquieting neighbor has disappeared from my sight.”

[Source: Kristy Farberm Journal for Preachers, 40 no 2 Lent 2017, p 25-28]

Proverbs 14:31 says, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

The term “oppress” means “to keep (someone) in subservience and hardship.” (Oxford English Dictionary). Keeping someone in hardship can be done in subtle ways as to “oppress” as to “exploit”, “take advantage”, or “mistreat.” Attempts to tone down what poor in spirit means by saying it’s only about being dependent on God is to miss the deeper meaning about God’s preferential love for the lowly and abused, often living in material need.

E.g. For nearly forty years, National Migration Week has been celebrated in January, although it’s now in September. Most undocumented workers, and I am referring not those massing at our southern border, among them drug traffickers and those planning to make fraudulent asylum claims, but rather those who have been honestly working and looking for work in this country for decades, who ultimately find themselves in occasional low-wage odd jobs where they are susceptible to exploitation and unable to exert their labor rights; they are nearly three times more likely to experience wage theft than legal workers, which speak of the need for meaningful immigration reform.

So, these Beatitudes aren’t about our need for God, however true that is. Instead, it is about Jesus’ own compassion, his identification with the poorest of the poor, and it’s our mission in Christ to reach out to the marginalized, the outcast and broken, as Psalm 34:18, says: “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.”

Of course, one can be financially secure and still be poor in spirit. For example, for single people, who would have liked to be married, the catechism (1658) mentions the Beatitudes, saying:

 “… because of the particular circumstances in which [single persons] have to live – often not of their choosing – [they] are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors… Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion…”

The poor in spirit are those who have assumed the sentiments and attitude of the poor who in their condition do not rebel, but know how to be humble, docile, and open to the grace of God.