Some more thoughts on:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Who are “the poor in spirit”?
There is absolutely no doubt that they are, well, the poor. The context (Matthew 4:23-5:1) and the words “poor in spirit” are in the company of other subjects of the “Blesseds” (i.e., the 3rd person beatitude subjects) that suggest those who are among the marginal.
The phrase, “the poor in spirit,” is often turned into “everyone,” since everyone is poor in spirit, that is we are all poor before God–you know, everyone is in spiritual poverty. Well, that simply can’t work in this text. First, it doesn’t say that. Second, that would mean Jesus actually meant, “Blessed is everyone since everyone is spiritually poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Either nothing radical about that or what's the point?
And by the way, you just can’t make the text say “Blessed is everyone who recognizes they are spiritually poor . . .” either. The text simply gives no hint or translative potential for that spin. You can read into it; read back into it. But that's not what Jesus said and no exegetical fancy-foot-work can turn what Jesus said into “everyone” or “everyone who recognizes . . .” Sorry. Ain't in there to be had this way.
Simply: I believe many good intentioned Christians are afraid of what it means if indeed Jesus actually said, “Blessed are the poor [the actual poor] in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Yet, he did. Deal with it. Don't rob the poor of this mind blowing, culture changing, kingdom reversing, Christendom destroying, idol bashing text.
Dangerous Sunday morning devotions: Some sins are easier to condemn and discipline than is our own idolatries
It is so far easier for advantaged Christians to identify, condemn, discipline, and correct sexual sins than it is idolatry and greed and covetousness (which is idolatry); for, these latter sins are harbored in our hearts and bank accounts, addresses, and processions.
Note to those drawn above to “sexual immorality, impurity, passion . . .” (you know, but Paul says . . .). These have more to do with how men treated women and little boys as a matter of attitude, class, and sexual enjoyment (i.e., “evil desire”), especially around the deipnon (or evening banquet-supper) common in Greco-Roman homes of advantage. Paul is most certainly applying the gospel to the hierarchical relationships where men are at the center of everything and apt to do as they want, which did not bode well for women and children (especially young, pubescent boys). The sexual references (i.e., sexual the prohibitions, actually) were to undo such male (especially, advantaged male) proclivities assumed and accepted in social relationships. This is what needed to be changed; thus, the references point to the sins of inequality, class, misogyny, pedophilia, and male pride.
So . . . perhaps we simply go with what is easy to condemn, i.e., sexual sins, because the English words give us power to do so and we love our greed (idolatry) and think ourselves better than others at way too many levels than we, that is, advantaged Christians [dare I say, advantaged Christian men?] care to admit or to confess. No wonder the Beatitudes [yes, I know I am making what seems a long jump at a cross reference here, but it's a fair one] were centered (at least initially focused; cf. Matthew 5:3-5) on the poor, mourning, and meek, for Jesus (“seeing the crowds,” Mat 5:1; cf. 4:24) was turning the tables [yes, that’s a pun on the Lord’s Supper stolen and recreated from the cultural supper-banquet where such sins occurred]–turning the tables on us all.
We, especially advantaged Christians, need to rethink sin and perhaps lament, confess, and repent of the idolatries that reside in our hearts and behaviors before we focus on the too-easy-to-condemn sexual sins of others.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.