Blessed Are The Poor in Spirit

May 21, 2018


“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [KJV] Today I am starting a nine-week series on the Beatitudes, looking at each one from several different points of view. I’ll be referencing the works of Dallas Willard, Cynthia Bourgeault, Neil Douglas-Klotz, Jean-Ives Leloup, Jim Forrest and the Message.

Let’s start with three definitions. First, blessed, from the Greek, makarios, means “receiving God’s favor, fortunate, good(in a position of favor), happy(feelings associated with receiving God’s favor).”[1] Going back to the original Aramaic that Jesus spoke, Jean-Ives Leloup finds that “recent scholarship has found that previous translations of the eight beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew are in error inasmuch as they imply a kind of passive consolation in the face of tribulations. They are instead an invitation to stand up, to arise and walk forth, no matter what pain and trouble may lie on the road ahead. “[2]

Secondly, spirit, pneuma in Greek, “means wind, breath, things which are commonly perceived as having no material substance; by extension spirit, heart, mind, the immaterial part of the inner person that can respond to God; spirit being, ghost, God the Holy Spirit.”[3] And lastly, poor: ptochos in Greek, means poor, beggar, one of few resources, culturally considered oppressed, despised and miserable. ‘The poor in spirit’ are not lacking in spirit, but have the positive moral quality of humility, realizing they have nothing to offer God, but are in need of his free gifts.”[4]

Blessed/walk forth are the poor in spirit. We have interpretations which suggest that the poor in spirit are down and out, that they are desperate, that they are humble, that they breathe the Holy Breath of God and that they are open in mind and spirit. What are we to make of this range of understanding of this Beatitude? What are we to learn from the differences?

Perhaps we start with the idea of the emptiness in us—that’s part of being poor: the longing for belonging and living life to the fullest and coming home to God, where our true home is and always was. We finally understand that the desires of this world will never fill us in any meaningful or lasting way. That we can’t even take any wealth with us when we die or, for that matter, anything material. It is in knowing our own poverty that we are finally cognizant of what we are missing in living from the world’s point of view.

When we admit our own emptiness, finally we come face to face with God. Face to face with the One who knows how to fill us, how to help us reorient our lives,  to come alive at last. Like Jesus we have to die to the world and be reborn into a life resurrected and connected to the Source. We find, at last, that when we die to the world, a whole new life enters us and lives fully in us; again it is that breath of life, the breath of God.

It is those who know they are empty, who are at last open to what God offers us, who are blessed. It is when we are emptiest that we are most open to God. It is as Eugene Peterson translated this beatitude in The Message offers:  “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”[5]

At the end of our rope, desperate, poor in the ways and things of the spirit, we are more open to God, more cognizant that we have no tools with which to change ourselves, seeing finally that God is the answer to all our prayers. This is the turning point in our lives that shows that God can fulfill anything in our lives, even us. Cynthia Bourgeault would take it even further: “’poor in spirit’ designates an inner attitude of receptivity and openness.”[6] She goes on to say that only in this state of mind can one receive anything new.

So we have to be empty of all the world-based and ego-based preoccupations of the human being. Then, and only then, can we see the truth of who we are and the poverty in our lives. Then, as humble as we can be, we begin to breathe in the “one cosmic breath of life, the rukha d’goodsha or Holy Breath.”[7]

For the humble, the poor in spirit, the receptive and open, the desperate, and more, the reward is the kingdom of heaven, a true home, a resting place in the arms of God, a oneness with the Holy Spirit and with every other creature on this earth, a purpose and fulfillment. Breathing in the breath of God, we are healed and transformed into true servants of God, true lovers of life, of all life, true followers of the word of God.

In both the Hebrew and the Greek, Old Testament and New Testament, the words used for breath, [nepel, nsama, ruah, hebel and yapah in Hebrew and pneuma in the Greek] also mean wind, life, life force, the immaterial part of a person that can respond to God. Pneuma as used in the first Beatitude to describe the poor in spirit ties our breath to God’s breath.

I am reminded of the hymn, “Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love as you have loved and do as you would do.” When we are empty enough of the world and our ego, then we are truly breathing in the breath of God, the Holy Breath. We can walk forth in that knowledge. And ours is the kingdom of God.


Questions to ponder over the week: Am I humble, empty, receptive, desperate for God? Am I searching for my true home? Do I depend on myself or on God for direction, for answers, for love? Am I empty? Waiting to be filled?


Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are open and receptive to God, who are humble and poor, really in need of Him. May we empty ourselves out so as to make space for Him.



[1] Goodrick & Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance, 2nd Edition, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 1568, Strong’s #3421

[2] Jean-Ives Leloup, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Inner Traditions International, 1997, p. 76-7

[3] Goodrick & Kohlenberger IIIs, p. 1584, Strong’s #4460

[4] Ibid p. 1588, Strong’s #4777

[5] Eugene Peterson, The Message,, Matthew 5:3,

[6] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2008, p. 42

[7] Neil Doublas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections of the Original Meaning of Jesus’ Words, HarperOne, NY, 1990, p.48

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