Jesus already had their attention.
By the time the crowds settled in on a Judean hillside to hear the first extended teaching of the New Testament, Jesus had called his disciples to follow him. He had started to proclaim the kingdom of God. He was healing diseases and casting out demons. He was teaching the people and calling them to repentance. As the fourth chapter of Matthew draws to close, we read that “large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” (Matthew 4:25)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he sat down and began to teach. What comes next is a declaration of the characteristics of those who sought the kingdom he proclaimed. Some commentaries have called the declarations that have become known as The Beatitudes a manifesto of the kingdom.
And, it begins on a decidedly unexpected note.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:3
We have looked before at the word translated here as blessed. It is makarios. It’s a single word that encompasses the concepts of happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate. It’s a word used of those who find fulfillment in God, and who know that fulfillment despite their outward circumstances.
But, who are the poor in spirit?
They are sinful – as we all are – and they know it. They are broken, empty people. They can offer nothing to the kingdom out of their own power, strength or intellect. They are, to use a phrase Jesus would later use, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
They are nothing, but they know the one who is everything. They may be broken and empty, but they know who heals and fills them. They know the simplest of offerings can be magnified. They are harassed and helpless but know the Shepherd.
The beginning of Jesus’ first major teaching starts with people who have come to the end of themselves. It comes to those who, like the Prodigal, have come to the Father declaring their unworthiness, but who have been invited to share in all the Father has.
For theirs, he promises, is the kingdom of heaven.
And please don’t miss the present tense in this promise. The kingdom of heaven isn’t a reward we seek as if it were the destination at the end of a long, painful journey. It is here. It is now. It is reaching into our lives every moment as we lean into the grace and mercy of the Lord himself.
Out of our emptiness, we are indeed blessed. Here. Now. No matter what.