Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blessed Poverty

I just began a series of Sunday morning sermons on the Beatitudes and, after studying and reading in preparation over the past week, I've come to the conclusion that, to quote The Princess Bride, they don't mean what we think they mean.

On the first, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," we almost invariably hear that Jesus is describing the internal state of spiritual bankruptcy that results from our realizing our own sinfulness in the presence of a holy God.

Herman Ridderbos argues, however, that the blessed person described as "poor in spirit" is the one who willingly foregoes earth for heaven. In other words, when we submit to actual poverty (or some other this-worldly affliction) for the sake of Christ and his kingdom, we will be recompensed in eternity with the kind of treasure that cannot pass away.

Consider the fact that in Luke's version of the beatitudes it is the person who weeps now who is contrasted with those who will weep then, and the person who is hungry now with the one who will be lacking then. When Abraham denies the rich man his request for relief from torment in Luke 16, his rationale is that on earth he enjoyed good things while Lazarus the beggar experienced only bad things, and now it's time for the turning of the tables. After the rich young ruler left Jesus sorrowfully because of his many possessions, Jesus told the disciples that if they leave behind houses, lands, or family for his sake they will receive a hundredfold in the new world and will inherit eternal life. And the occasion for James's rebuke of the rich was that they "have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence" and have thereby stored up a treasure-house of curse and condemnation for the last day.

Returning to the beatitudes, then, it is perfectly consistent with the rest of the New Testament to understand "blessed are the poor in spirit" to be describing the person who lays up his treasure in heaven to such a degree that he actually enjoys less of it here.