There are two versions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One is in the gospel of Matthew and the other is I Like’s gospel. Jesus’ sermon encompasses chapters 5-7 in Matthew and Luke 6:20-49. Jesus’ sermon begins with a series of nine wisdom sayings or blessings in Matthew and only four in Luke’s gospel. In this post, I will address the first blessing: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” or “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
It is possible that Jesus’ preached this sermon from the top of Mount Gerizim. What better place to proclaim the blessings of practicing the principles of the Torah than from the place where Moses did the same. In the Deuteronomy 28, Moses pronounced four blessings for practicing daily the law of God. Ironically, Mt. Gerizim is in Samaria, which in Jesus’ day it was regarded by Temple authorities as a land of unclean gentile people. However, that didn’t stop Jews from coming to hear Jesus. They came from Judea, Jerusalem, Galilee, and other surrounding regions, and most likely gentiles came as well even from Syria, Sidon and Tyre. What is relevant about this bit of history is the benefits of practicing God law.
Of particular social significance is the first blessing Jesus proclaimed to the masses of people. The two versions give us a composite picture of the blessing of God that people of all races, cultures, religions, and nations may grasp. Matthew captures the inner working of divine law while Luke shows the heart of God for struggling people.
In Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” To be poor is to lack wealth. To be poor in spirit means to lack fullness of spirit. Jesus said God is Spirit. However, Jesus did not mean to be poor in spirit is to lack God. Jesus was saying you who are needy of God are blessed. Those who depend on God for their moral and material welfare are those who are blessed. According to Jesus’ apostle Paul, God supplies all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus in the divine welfare program. It is also God who empowers the faithful to keep His law.
Luke’s version was influenced by his own experience of God redemptive grace. Luke was a Roman physician who became a follower of Jesus. He was poor in spirit and in the knowledge of God. In ancient society, poor people were often sick and without adequate care. Although he was not poor himself, he would have provided care for needy people. Therefore, Luke emphasizes God’s blessing for the poor. The poor are those lacking wealth either because of an unjust political economy that was beneficial only to elites and their immediate associates or because of terrible circumstances such as bad health. Throughout both the Torah and the writings of the prophets, God revealed his great concern for their welfare. This concern is demonstrated in Genesis 39-49, in the account of the Jews exodus from Egypt slavery (Ex. 1-17), in the law concerning the poor (Lev. 25; Deut. 15; 24:12-22), in Isaiah’s prophecies (58:6-12). This is also fleshed out in early Church as reported throughout the gospels and letter of the apostle of Christ.
Because of God’s great abiding concern, the needy have access to the greatest of all resources: God. The Creator of nature’s wealth has a welfare program specifically for them. By entering the kingdom of God with Jesus Christ, they can expect their material and spiritual needs will be met. By living under the divine covenant rule, the poor gain the right to God’s provision. The obligation of citizen in God’s kingdom is to live according to God’s law and grace with Lord Jesus.
The King of the Universe invites the poor and needy to enter His kingdom. His welfare program is eternally better than any that wealthy social elites or special interest groups can ever offer. God is genuinely concerned about the welfare of the poor and needy. All the they have to do is say Yes, Lord Jesus, I want in God’s righteous kingdom.
By Daniel Downs