The Sermon on the Mount opens with a teaching on being poor in spirit, which refers to an attitude one has before God. It means not being self-reliant, but broken and dependent upon God for life.
Jesus is the new Moses, and the Sermon on the Mount is the new way of living, the Magna Carta of the Kingdom of God. The radical teachings found in The Sermon on the Mount are foundational for the Church’s walk with God, for our social life together and for our engagement with the world. However, there is an extended way of understanding this sermon that undermines its radicalness, including teachings by such influential church teachers as Augustine and Luther, along with dispensational theology. Anabaptist theology, on the other hand, takes the radical teachings of The Sermon on the Mount seriously, as was taught by the church for the first three hundred years.
This message addresses the first beatitude, which opens up the entire teaching in The Sermon on the Mount. Here we are taught about having the attitude of being poor, or reliant upon God, which does not refer to having a poverty mindset. The New Testament scholar, Robert Guelich, writes, “The ‘poor in spirit,’ now as then, are ultimately those standing without pretense before God, stripped of all self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness.” It’s the opposite to a mindset of a person who feels self-reliant, where one feels capable of meeting their own needs and the needs of those they love. In addition, it is the opposite of the mindset of people who feel morally superior to others, where one feels that they can be righteous on their own.
This is illustrated by Jesus in a parable found in Luke 18:9-14, where he contrasts the attitude of a Pharisee with that of a tax collector. The Pharisees were the most respected people among the Jews, while the tax collectors were loathed as cultural villains. The Pharisee was confident that he had favor with God because he wasn’t like “thieves, rogues, adulterers and tax collectors.” Jesus is saying that that kind of self-righteous attitude, which is so typical of religion, does not “justify” anyone. The one who is rightly related to God is one in the position of the tax collector, as they were “poor in spirit.”
The Kingdom community is to be a community of people who know they are in the position of the Tax Collector. To enter the Kingdom, you must put yourself at the bottom, as an outsider, relinquishing all claims to self-reliance, self-security and self-righteousness before God. In the Kingdom, we start with our brokenness. We are all broken by virtue of being born into a broken world. We are just a bunch of sinners who found a merciful God who died on the cross and rose again so that we might begin to experience wholeness. Even as you are healed and begin to experience wholeness, you remain a person desperately in need of God’s mercy.
To grow in wholeness, always looks like growing in Christ-likeness. We need to invite other people in our life to encourage us, hold us accountable, and watch our back. We need people who love us and know us well enough to notice when we are slipping in some area. We all need a small Kingdom community around us in order to grow.
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