Thoughts on the Beatitudes (4) - Evan Gear

Matthew 5:3 — Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…

Before moving on to a meditation on the second of the Beatitudes, I would like to linger
for a moment longer on verse 3. This first pronouncement of blessing expects the presence of two realities in our world. Jesus speaks to us of poverty and kings.
Clearly, he does so with assumption that we will have some sort of experience of these two things, without which his speech would be nonsensical. Why do I stop to notice this, you ask?

Because such an assumption on Jesus’ part stands in stark contradiction to our prevalent
sense of piety. We would rid the world of poverty in the name of heaven’s king and we
would purge the earth of kings for the good of the poor. Doing so we find ourselves
strangely opposing the very one we intend to serve.

The king himself says, “The poor you will have with you always.” In a stroke, he undoes
all of our social engineering and striving for utopias where poverty is eradicated. Yes, of course we do good to the poor as we have opportunity and on an individual basis but that is a far cry from the removal of the thing itself from our world. And no matter how hard we work at helping the needy we will never succeed in making them kings as this beatitude promises, especially kings in heaven.

As for the second reference to kings, we must not forget what wisdom cries (Proverbs 8:15): “By me kings reign…” And Jesus affirms before Pilate the same truth, “You would have no authority over me unless it was given from above…” Kings rule by permission from above. Yet we, in our
shared political sensibilities, bristle at the very idea of a king. Sic Semper Tyrannus, “thus
always to tyrants,” reads the motto of a state flag depicting a man standing upon the
corpse of a king. The monarch lies beneath his feet struck dead by the thrust of a well aimed spear.

“Don’t tread on me” is another phrase that we delight in quoting and sticking on bumpers. The idea that monarchs are inherently bad holds something of a sacred place in our hearts. We would purge the world of any hint of the thing in the name of liberty for the overlooked, poor, citizen. With a religious zeal we seek a world that is without poverty and without king, yet Jesus mentions both without blushing.

He establishes the reign of kings just as surely as he declares the perpetuity of poverty. I say this with no real desire to overturn our Democratic republic for a return to the golden years of monarchy.

I mean only to alert you to the simple fact that Jesus wills the continued existence of both the poor and the sovereign. We need go no farther than the streets of Savannah to see the one and
merely browse the titles of the nearest bookstore or a list of popular movies to encounter
the other. Poverty continues unabated and the dream of a good king haunts us in all of our
works of fiction because Christ would say to you:

Blessed are the poor… theirs is the kingdom…

And, so saying, he would be understood by his hearers.
He takes those two earthly realities — the ones we seek to rid ourselves of — he takes
them, and in his hands, he uses them to communicate blessedness. The one, poverty,
defines the state of those who are prepared to receive the blessing. The other, kingdom,
describes the nature of the blessing itself.

You want to know what you are? Then simply look at the homeless man on the street, dirty and clothed in rags. That is who you are, in the Spirit, before the unblinking judgment of God. Knowing that, contemplating that, would you know what you shall be? Then go, take up the books and look at the images of the king in his pomp and splendor, and with these in mind hear the word: “yours is the kingdom.” And then amplify that earthly glory by lifting your eyes to the heavens to see
it - the crown, robes, and majesty - there unfading, incorruptible, and eternally resplendent for the kingdom is of heaven. You see, the mind of Christ does not seek to destroy or erase those things. Instead, he renews them by contemplating them as instruments of the communication of his salvation to us. He thus saves, sanctifies, and even brings glory to what to us is offensive. As you read this verse then, remember that.
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