When Anna and Megan were little, bedtime prayers were a simple litany of all those people in our lives: “God bless Farfar and G.G., Grandma Dorothy and Grandma Norma, their teachers at school, their pets, anyone at church whose trouble they knew, and a general concern for those who were hungry or cold. I was moved by their sensitivity to the wounds of the world around them, and how easily strangers, family members and pets could all fit into the circle of their concern.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” he is not using the word for blessing as in those simple prayers. In both Hebrew and Greek, one word is used for conveying favor; another carries the sense of an existing state. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” asks for grace to be given. The Blessed Virgin Mary exists in a state of grace and honor; it is a quality of her being. So, here, in the beatitudes, the word carries that second sense.
Sometimes you will see this word translated as “happy” though that hardly seems weighty enough. “How honorable are those who are poor in Spirit,” gets us closer to the meaning. It describes a state of being that is in a right relationship with God, with others and with oneself; a life in proper harmony with all these; a life that is the true meaning of a good life. We are not fortunate to be poor, grieving or hungry. Nor are we lucky to be in such a state because we have some great reward coming. The people of whom Jesus speaks are those in an honorable state of harmony with the way of God. They are tuned to the Sprit. They live already the dawning reign of God.
The “poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” the “meek” and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” are not four different kinds of people getting four different rewards. These are four different images from different angles of those who lives are attuned to the compassion and justice of God. They do not vaunt themselves over God; they grieve for the broken and the brokenness of the world, their sails are filled with the wind/breath of God, they hunger and thirst for the transformation of the world.
These honorable/blessed ones share already in the kingdom of God – notice the present tense of that first verse: “Theirs is the kingdom of God.” And they shall see the fulfillment of God’s promise to heal/redeem the earth. They shall be comforted. They shall inherit the earth. Their hunger shall be fully satisfied.
There is a second section to these makarisms. How honorable are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. Those in tune with the kingdom of God live it. We will have to come back to this saying about persecution that takes such a central place in the series – living the way of God will have consequences – but first we need to hear these first eight sayings end as they began: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Spirit of God is found here, the reign of God has begun here, in these in whom God’s justice and mercy abides. They will be acknowledged as true children of God.