Jesus has just begun his public life: he invites people to a change of heart, he announces that the kingdom of God is at hand, and he heals every sort of illness and infirmity. The crowds are beginning to follow him. He climbs up to a high place and begins to teach those gathered around him, explaining his program for one’s life in what is known as “the sermon on the mount.”
Jesus’ new approach comes through right from the start. He announces that those who should be considered blessed are not the rich, the powerful, the influential, but those who are poor, humble, unassuming, pure of heart, those who mourn and are oppressed.
This “sermon” marks an overturning of the common mentality, especially in our society which often exalts consumerism, hedonism, and prestige. It’s the “good news” brought by Jesus, which gives joy and hope to those who are “least” and which instills trust in the love of a God who is close to those experiencing times of trial and suffering. This announcement of joy and salvation is summed up entirely in the first of the eight beatitudes which assures that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit:
«Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven»
But what does it mean to be “poor in spirit?” It means to be detached from our goods and possessions, from people, and from ourselves. In a word, it means to set aside whatever in our hearts prevents us from being open to God and his will and also from being open to our neighbors by making ourselves one with them in order to love them as we should. It means being willing to leave everything—father, mother, “fields” and country—if that is what God is asking of us.
To be “poor in spirit” means putting our trust not in riches but in God’s providential love. Often we are “rich,” for example, with worries about our health, with anxiety about our relatives, with concern about a certain job, with uncertainty about how to act in a given situation, or with fear for the future. All this can block us and make us close ourselves off and prevent us from being open to God and to our brothers and sisters. It is in these very moments, however, that the “poor in spirit” believe in the love of God, cast all their worries upon him, and in turn experience the love of such a Father.
We are “poor in spirit” when we allow ourselves to be guided by love towards others. We share with those in need and put at their disposal whatever we have: a smile, our time, our goods, our talents. Once we have given everything out of love, we are poor, that is, we are empty, open, free, pure of heart.
In turn, this “poverty,” which is a fruit of love, becomes a source of love: because we are empty of ourselves, and therefore free, we are able to welcome the will of God wholeheartedly, without reservations, and to welcome all those who come our way.
To those who live this purity of heart and poverty of spirit, Jesus assures that the kingdom of heaven is theirs; they are blessed because
«… theirs is the kingdom of heaven»
The kingdom of heaven cannot be bought nor can it be taken by force. It comes as a gift. This is why Jesus asks us to be like children or like the poor who, like children, need to receive everything from someone else. Then the Holy Spirit, attracted by that emptiness of love, will be able to fill our souls because he will not find any obstacles to impede full communion.
The “poor in spirit” have everything because they have kept nothing for themselves; they are poor of themselves and rich in God. Here again, the words of the Gospel apply: “Give and gifts will be given to you” (Lk 6:38). We give what we have and we are given nothing less than the kingdom of heaven.
This is the experience of a mother in Argentina: “My husband’s mother was so attached to him that she became jealous of me. Her attitude always created difficulties between us and hardened my heart toward her. A year ago she was diagnosed with a tumor. She needed treatment and assistance that her only daughter was unable to give her. For some time I had been trying to live the words of the Gospel and they changed my heart; I was learning to love. Overcoming every fear, I took my mother-in-law into our home. I began to see her in a new light and to love her. It was Jesus whom I was caring for and helping in her. She was not indifferent to my love, and to my great surprise she responded to every gesture of mine with an equal amount of love. The grace of God worked the miracle of reciprocity!
“Months of sacrifice followed but they were not a burden for me. And when my mother-in-law left serenely for heaven, everyone felt at peace. During those days I realized that I was expecting a baby, which we had so greatly desired for nine years! For us, this child is a tangible sign of God’s overwhelming love.”