There are good reasons why the first beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount is: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3). To hear these prophetic words as if Jesus were proclaiming them directly to us dispels the deception that what we possess determines our temporal and spiritual worth.
To advance the reign of God on earth does not depend on whether we belong to the “haves” or the “have nots.” What matters is our refusal to adopt an “acquisitions mentality” that tempts us to cling to power, pleasure, and possessions as ends in themselves. We give little or no thought to the fact that what ought to have priority in our lives is the reign of God.
If we have the courage to listen to Jesus, we are bound to see that “heaven and earth will pass away, but [his] words will not pass away” (Mt 24:35). In the light of this revelation, we need to ask ourselves two key questions:
1. Do we focus so much on material things that we neglect our spiritual life?
2. Have we reduced the meaning of becoming poor in spirit to what we do or do not possess?
The answer to the first question depends on our willingness to imitate the selfless giving of the Lord. His kenotic love means not only providing material gifts to the poor, but also acknowledging the truth that, regardless of our position in life, we are wholly dependent on God.
To respond to the second question, we must cease clinging so tightly to our possessions that we neither share them with others nor use them wisely for our own and their benefit. If avarice replaces generosity, it is impossible to follow Jesus.
That is why the Lord teaches us to be grateful givers, not selfish takers. He wants us to learn that no matter how little or how much we own, nothing belongs to us anyway, so why should we act as if we can take it with us to the grave (see Mt 16:26)?
Christ wants us to be stewards over the treasures we receive. He calls us to care as selflessly as possible for the spiritually abandoned in body and soul. Whether our possessions are few or many, we must not let them possess us. They are servant sources of our calling in the Lord, not ends in themselves.
For example, to dress attractively and appropriately in keeping with our professional life is an expression of how committed we are to the work we love. Planting a beautiful garden and arranging tasteful furnishings points to our knack for homemaking and our gift for hospitality.
In short, poverty of spirit prompts us to thank God for whatever we have and to commit ourselves to share it with others. Unfortunately, the materialism of the present age makes what we own or long to possess the focus of our attention. It drains our energy and embeds in our soul destructive vices like envy and jealousy.
We need to be vigilant lest we underestimate the influence of the materialistic forces that surround us. They tend to direct us away from prudent stewardship and toward the idolatry of possessions and their ownership as ends in themselves.
To guard against the temptation to be swallowed up by a surfeit of things, it helps to consider the “poverty of the present moment.” God gives us this day. We do not know whether we will have a tomorrow and yesterday is already gone. Since this moment is ours to treasure, why, then, do we worry so much about the future? If we let the grace of the present pass us by, we may fail to appreciate its hidden splendor and spend our life fretting about what is not yet nor may ever be ours.
Living the poverty of the present moment is a way to foster the disposition of heart that enables us to treat what we have received with the respect and gratitude it deserves. This kind of wisdom influences our actions both when we care for our immediate family and reach out to help those in need.
Only when we live in the poverty of the present moment can we align our actions with God’s will for us in our here-and-now situation. There is no need to give up in frustration since we can always try to find a way to help others, on the condition that our lives are “free from the love of money” (Heb 13:5).
The more we treasure the present moment, the more we realize that what we receive from God is always beyond what we expected or deserved.
Becoming poor in spirit enables us to recommit ourselves to relying on God’s grace while doing our best to serve the spiritually and physically abandoned who cross our path.
However rich or poor we happen to be, all of us stand before the Father as beggars, who ask only that we may be granted a place in the kingdom prepared for us from the begging of time.