Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Poor in Spirit

When holy Scripture is being read, we should look at ourselves as though in a mirror and consider our state of soul. Let me explain what I mean.

Jan 27, 2017

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
(Year A)
Readings: Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12a

Who are the poor in spirit? Several common misunderstandings can block our comprehension of the first Beatitude. For example, (1) some people take the phrase “poor in spirit” as analogous with language like “the soil is poor in nitrogen”— as if the condition of being relatively spirit-less were being used. This misunderstanding springs from an unfortunate accident of language.

Then there is (2) the reading that takes the first Beatitude as a consolation of the destitute, as if Jesus were saying to the economically deprived, “Don’t worry: you are suffering now in your poverty, but your present suffering will be amply recompensed in the next life, after you die.” But the “kingdom of heaven” is simply Matthew’s Jewish way of referring to what is elsewhere in the Gospels called “the kingdom of God,” or God’s reign, already inaugurated in the life of Jesus and accessible even before death.

Another source of confusion, common even in commentaries, is the claim that (3) Luke’s version, “Blessed are (you) poor,” congratulates the economically destitute, whereas Matthew’s version somehow takes the bite out of the Beatitude by “spiritualising” it with the phrase “in spirit.”

The case can be made that both Luke and Matthew are faithful to the teaching of Jesus, which draws its meaning of “the poor” from Isaiah. In a number of places, Isaiah describes Israel in exile as poor, hungry, mourning as they await God’s response to their need for rescue from exile. In this context, to be poor is to know your need for God.

Once we are in touch with the biblical home base of “the poor,” we can see why Matthew introduced the phrase “in spirit,” for knowing one’s need for God is a disposition of the heart, not an economic state. At the same time, however, those who know the pinch of actual poverty have the edge in knowing their need for God. In this respect, the economically secure can more easily succumb to the delusion that they are self-sufficient.

How, then, do those of us who are relautively secure economically qualify for the blessing of the “poor in spirit”? Some have found that poverty of spirit by discovering their helplessness in the experience of addiction or in the loss of a loved one. Others have learned to recover their need for God by standing in solidarity with the economically deprived and seeing the world anew through their eyes. -- By Prof Fr Dennis

Thoughts From The Early Church

Blessed are the poor in spirit
When holy Scripture is being read, we should look at ourselves as though in a mirror and consider our state of soul. Let me explain what I mean. We hear the Lord saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Gospel)

This must make us always examine and test ourselves whenever we suffer humiliation, whenever we are insulted, dishonoured, and treated with contempt, to see whether or not we possess the virtue of humility.

A person who has it bears everything without feeling hurt or taking offence. His heart is not wounded by anything that happens to hmim.

If he is slightly wounded, he is not completely upset; on the contrary, a person who is not poor in spirit, instead of accepting what happened with joy, he is distressed and thinks himself despicable, he grieves and weeps.

Withdrawing into the inner chamber of his soul or his cell, he falls down before God and confesses to him as though he had completely forfeited eternal life.

Then again we hear: “Blessed are those who mourn.” Notice that the Lord does not say those who have mourned, but those who continually mourn. Concerning this too, then, we must examine ourselves to see whether we mourn every day, for if we have been made humble by repentance, obviously, we shall not pass a single day or night without tears, without mourning, and without compunction.

And again: “Blessed are the gentle.” Can anyone who mourns every day continue to live in a state of anger and not become gentle? Just as water extinguishes a blazing fire, so mourning and tears extinguish anger in the soul so completely that a person who has long been given over to it sees his irascible disposition transformed into perfect serenity

Again we hear: “Blessed are the merciful.” Who, then, are the merciful? Those who give away their possessions or who feed the poor? No. Then who are they?

Those who have become poor for the sake of him who became poor for our sake, those who have nothing to give, but who, in a spiritual way, are always mindful of the poor, the widows, the orphans and the sick.

Seeing them frequently, they have compassion on them and shed burning tears over them. Such was Job, who said: “I wept over every infirmity.” (Job 30:25)

When they have anything, they cheerfully give alms to them, as well as ungrudgingly reminding all of how they can save their souls, thus obeying the one who said: “What I learned with pure intention I pass on without grudging.” (Wis 7:13)

These are the ones the Lord calls blessed, the ones who are truly merciful, for such mercy is like a step by which they ascend to attain perfect purity of heart.

In virtue of this, God then proclaims the pure of heart blessed, saying: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Gospel)

The purified soul sees God in everything and is reconciled to him. Peace is established between God, our Creator, and the soul, his erstwhile enemy, and it is then called blessed by God for being a peacemaker: Blessed are the peacemakers, he says, for they shall be called children of God. --By Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)

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