I always find it irritating when I forget to charge either my phone or my laptop. Nothing good can come from that. It means delay. It means inefficiency. It means non-productivity.
All of these are evils.
What’s worse is that both my cell phone and laptop are almost two years old, and the batteries don’t last like they used to. That means more charging, less freedom. And that means delay, inefficiency, non-productivity. (sigh)
But what’s worse–far worse–is when I realize that I am on low battery–the times when I have little, if anything, more to give.
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where being on “low battery” was–at least in some shape or form–a good thing? What if there were hidden benefits to the whole “low battery” thing?
Our culture, our family of origin, and our own hearts tell us–often in very subtle and indirect ways–that life will be better if we do such-and-such or if we are such-and-such. Life will be better, I tell myself, if I can avoid delay, inefficiency, non-productivity.
I prize strength and knowledge. Weakness and ignorance are the enemies.
But Jesus would disagree. He says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Now some of the so-called “beatitudes” of Jesus are fairly easy to grasp (e.g., we have some sense of what a “peacemaker” is). But others are more enigmatic–like this one. (On top of that, the word “blessed” escapes our understanding: it’s obviously good in some way, but just what does that mean?)
Well, the word “blessed” does not mean (as is sometimes claimed) “happy” or “joyful” or “accepted.” Actually, it doesn’t really speak to the emotional state of a person. Rather, it refers to the (positive) nature of his or her circumstances.
That is, it refers not so much to one’s feelings but to one’s future. An alternative translation might be “fortunate.” (In fact, the Greek word is translated “fortunate” by many English translations in Acts 26.2.) One could translate the Greek word using a phrase like: “It will go better for…” or “Life will be better for…”
As already stated, our culture, our family of origin, and our own hearts regularly tell us what they think will make us “blessed”–i.e., more fortunate: strength and knowledge, which enable us to be quick, efficient, productive. In control.
Okay, but what does it mean to be “the poor in spirit”?
In Scripture “spirit” can have multiple meanings, but behind most is the idea of strength (and, rarely, wisdom or discretion). “Spirit” is what (or who) animates, enlivens, and stirs. The term stands in conceptual opposition to the term “flesh,” not because one is visible and the other invisible, but because flesh is understood to be inert or inactive. It is “spirit” which acts upon “flesh” to give it life.
So, then, to be “poor in spirit” is to be seriously lacking in drive, motivation. It is to be overwhelmed, weak, confused, lacking what are considered to be necessary resources (energy, knowledge, influence, etc.). And Jesus is actually saying: It will be better for those who are weak and overwhelmed, for those who are on low battery.
I know. It makes no sense. (But welcome to Jesus.)
Jesus is contrasting those who are “poor in Spirit” with those around us who seem to have limitless resources: they can make it happen; they get it done. They achieve, produce, influence, publish, invent, compose, transform, etc., etc.
They not only seem to be making a difference; they seem to be making the difference.
But Jesus is also contrasting we who are (presently) “the poor in Spirit” with our own selves–i.e., with who we can be. Or with who we once were. Or with who we should have the ability to be–at least, according to…our culture, our family of origin, or, alas, ourselves. Hmmm….
But Jesus thinks one of the best things that can happen to a person is to be on “low battery.” Why?
Because when our batteries are low, what do we do? We begin–perhaps for the first time–to look for an animating force outside ourselves. We begin to look for a “change agent” outside of ourselves that might be able to make not merely a difference but the difference.
But until our battery is low, until we are confronted with the very real possibility that we may not actually be a force to be reckoned with, until we are faced with the brutal reality that we don’t have remotely as much control and influence as we once thought we did, we remain under the veil of self-reliance. We will continue buying into the (crushing, exhausting) propaganda of our own self-importance.
It is an extremely painful realization that many refuse to make, and so rather than admitting that we are poor in spirit, we remain angry (usually at God but it’s taken out on others), defeated, jealous, blaming others, ever plotting and scheming. And alone, feeling like the world is against us. Taken to its limits, we just give up all together (“If I can’t make the difference, I refuse to make any difference”), and we escape into whatever “painkiller” we can find.
But to those who will take the risk of admitting that they are “poor in spirit”–that they are on low battery, to those who begin to do not merely call into question the standards and “adequacy” given to them by their culture, their family of origin, or their own heart, to those who begin to look outside themselves, something happens that will make their lives so much better–that is, they will be blessed:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
That is, God’s coming reign belongs to–i.e., it is for–those on low battery. Jesus proclaimed that Israel’s God was the decisive agent, that God was acting in irreversible ways in the world and for his world. And he was doing it through Jesus, the one who enjoyed full, unreserved divine backing, clearly indicated at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. How?
When the Father gave Jesus the Spirit.
And it is this same Jesus who radically redefines adequacy, calling us not to speed, efficiency, and productivity, but to something else entirely: faithfulness.
In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we are to take whatever God has given us and be faithful with it. We are not called to productivity (and how do we really know what is truly productive anyway?). We are called to fidelity–to take whatever we have, small or great, and set it before him each day and know that he is pleased.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
God, thank you for these feelings of inadequacy; thank you for weakness; thank you for loss of control and influence; thank you for inefficiency and non-productivity. For these bring me to the end of myself and to the beginning of Your Kingdom. And that means peace. And faithfulness. Now. And it means one day hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share in your master’s joy!”