Sometimes I like to think that the Bible’s playing this sort of game with us. Things are said in certain ways that make you go “alright, I think I get it, but I know I don’t get it entirely.” Admittedly, if there is something that you think you get entirely, then look back at it and then talk to someone who you know will have a different opinion than you and give yourself enough room to listen to that person. I know that personally once I fully understand something, I am no longer intentional about it. I learned how to tie at least 6 different kinds of knots in boy scouts and how to do multiplication tables in elementary school, yet I still find myself wishing it were acceptable to wear velcro shoes as a 20 year old and having to use my calculator to figure out how many ounces of beef a quarter pounder would be.
It is four. Four ounces.
I say all this because I’ve been reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount some and right out of the gate is a phrase that could bear several meanings:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
There’s a lot of contention (contention’s probably too aggressive of a word, but it’s the one I’m using) surrounding what that phrase means. For one, it’s frankly just language we don’t use anymore, and part of me wonders if it was ever commonly used at all. It’s hard to imagine a time when people would just walk around and say “Oh yeah, that’s Bill. He is poor in spirit, bless his heart.” And then you’d see Bill slumping around with a mopey face and a security blanket like Linus because he’s just the saddest person around. His spirits aren’t high.
And then you can look at the Luke parallel that puts a lot more simply:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
And that one is easier to sorta get your hands around because we get poor. We understand poor. As a college student, I aggressively abuse the word “poor” by claiming that I am poor so I can justify the amount of Ramen I eat when really I just like Ramen.
But it’s hard to understand what “poor in spirit” means, and even further, how it applies to us as a people who, for the most part, are not poor or poor in spirit (whatever that may mean).
So to get some clarity, naturally, I turn to Game of Thrones.
Now, I don’t know if it’s intentional or not (and judging by HBO’s interpretation, I begrudgingly lean toward not), but the world of Game of Thrones, thematically, is notably Christ-like. Not for the wars, incest, and murder, but for who the best characters are and who is put in an upstanding position.
In the world of Westeros, there’s a distinct sense that the kingdoms belong to the bastards, beaten, and broken. All the other people who are noble, self-absorbed, clever, or in a position of traditional power are in constant danger of death, and they consistently reveal that their characters, their inner beings, are far more vile than those of lower consideration. It’s the same inversion of power that we see all over the gospel (last shall be first, first shall be last, etc.).
These are the poor in spirit, and these are the same people Jesus is saying the kingdom of heaven belongs to. These are the people we, the church, need to reach out to. We love to be the kingdom, but one thing we gloss over is that that kingdom is something that is given.
We are very good about noticing the poor in spirit, the marginalized. We are less good at giving ourselves to them.
And isn’t that the most ironic thing? Because last I checked, each and every one of us has had at least some instance where we were or felt poor in spirit. When were you broken? If the answer is never, you may want to take a good hard look at yourself and your faith, because overall, Jesus calls us to be a broken people. So how is it that as a self-proclaimed and acknowledged broken people, we are so hesitant to give ourselves to others?
It doesn’t make sense, and it’s enough to make us want to throw our hands in the air in frustration and resignation. Or at least it is for me. But that is one thing we cannot afford to do.
In Captain America, there’s a scene where Steve Rogers is questioning his being selected to be Captain America, and the man in charge of the program tells him he was picked “Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows… compassion.”
We are a kingdom of broken people that is promised to the broken. It’s a viciously compassionate cycle. As people who have come to know Jesus, we are called to reach out to those that share in the same brokenness, but have not heard the promise of Christ, have not heard his blessing on them. We are called to serve them: the bastards, the beaten, the broken. Or, maybe in more modern terms: the divorced, the poor, the widowed, the abused.
It’s funny that a couple weeks ago I was pondering what the best version of church would look like (which you can read about here), and then I went to Bible study this past Sunday and we were discussing that as well. And that’s a topic that’s explored a lot in Acts and Romans and all of Paul’s stuff as the 1st century church is struggling to get on its feet and figure some things out. And we discussed the physically poor for a while because that’s what we’re most familiar with and what we can most immediately aid. It’s also more comfortable to approach because you don’t have to get familiar with someone to tell if they’re not wealthy, but you have to invest in someone to discover the state of their spirit. That’s something we’re drastically afraid of doing, and I wonder how much of that comes from a conviction that asking about someone else’s spirit will force us to look at our own.
But it’s important not to miss the very first word of this passage in both Matthew’s and Luke’s message. Blessed.
We have all been poor in spirit, and I think we’ll always continue to be in some capacity. But the point of this being a blessing and what I think the point of this promise of the kingdom of heaven is, is for us to look deeply into what it means personally. Because we can see ourselves reflected in any and all of the beatitudes, but instead of seeing ourselves reflected back being poor in spirit or mourning or being persecuted, I think Jesus wants us to see him.
And when we do see him, I think he’s saying something along the lines of
“You are blessed. This is my kingdom, my people, and it is yours.”
On a more personal note, things this past week have been good and as hectic as every other this semester. Weekly Sing Song update: things are coming together and I cannot wait to get the props done and the costumes made so that our Superman act can really take off. Pun absolutely intended. Nathan recently ate my only package of shrimp Ramen and then apologized by buying me three more. Upon further inspection, it was revealed that he did so primarily to conceal Squishy Chicken as it was his turn to hide it. I was so infuriated by his cleverness that I declared the apology invalid and have sworn to hide Squishy Chicken in such a way that he may never be found again.
In more enriching news, the club I’m a part of at ACU, TXA, has recently taken on some new members and we shared our first small group lunch with the three new additions. I’m excited to see what God’s got in store for us as we move forward with new brothers and new perspectives on how to better live out the Sermon on the Mount. If you want to learn more about TXA and/or follow along with us, we have a blog here.
Finally, you may have seen that I finished my short story in three parts, Compartments on Wednesday. If you haven’t taken the time to read it and feel compelled to do so, you can find it on my blog here. I recommend it if you like mysteries, circuses, brothers who only get along when it matters, 19th century love stories, or if you’ve ever claimed to care about me.
It comes very highly recommended by my girlfriend. Speaking of my girlfriend, we celebrated our fifth anniversary on Sunday by facetiming for 2 hours and talking about things that matter and things that don’t matter at all. It was wonderful.