Summary: Ash Wednesday: Christ’s name elicits jeers and rejection from those who don’t know Him. But for the poor in spirit, Christ is Savior, Son of the Living God.
Why the outcry? Why the outcry when the name or the work of Jesus is mentioned in public? The reaction to the mention of the name is like splashing ice water on people. We see it in our own lives as the name of Jesus offends – sometimes family members; sometimes friends or neighbors. We see it in the public square. Everyone from religious leaders to the media to the man on the street has expressed outrage and concern over the movie, “The Passion.”
This movie, depicting the last twelve hours of Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross has raise howls of protest: “Why its too violent,” they say. “Its too graphic; it offends sensibilities.” And yet, Hollywood has specialized in churning out films that glorify sex and violence and greed. - And even movies that denigrate Christ and people of faith, with nary a protest to the contrary from the same groups that are offended at the story of Christ’s suffering and death for the sake of our forgiveness.
Why the outcry? Could it be that our society is much less populated by the ‘poor in spirit’ that Christ talks about in his Sermon on the Mount? Could it be that the blessedness of being one of the ‘poor in spirit,’ that will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, has eluded the opinion makers and the movers and shakers?
One of the theologians of the Church suggested that to understand what Jesus was saying in the Beatitudes we that need to consider the opposite. If we do, the Beatitudes would read something like this:
“Blessed are.…the rich; the joyful; the assertive; those who hunger and thirst for influence and approval; the adamant and the inflexible; those who often feel strongly both ways and look at everything from both sides; those who thrive on conflict and tension; and those who know how to compromise and when to jump ship.” (Homiletic Help, St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House 1998.)
Hmm, sounds like me. Sounds like most of our society. How far must we search to find the ‘poor in spirit?’ I know that when I look in the mirror, the person I see looking back often behaves quite contrary to the notion of ‘poor in spirit.’ Truth be told, we like to be self sufficient. We prefer to hear it said that this person is a self made-man or this person has managed to achieve success on their own. We like to feel that we can manage life independently – that we owe no one a word of thanks for what we’ve achieved.
This is the attitude that permeates the children of this world. For them to accept without complaint the suffering of Jesus is to admit that it was because of their own iniquity – for their own sin. To accept the suffering of Jesus is to owe a debt of gratitude to God. And so rather than thankfulness, the Cross and all that it represents is reprehensible. It causes offense. It causes people to feel that they must rely on this pitiful man – who was beaten and flogged and killed – for their salvation. Pride forces us to look upon the gifts of God with disdain for to acknowledge them means to acknowledge our guilt. Clearly, beloved, Christ’s Beatitudes set a standard that contrasts with the way many live today.
What does Jesus mean by, “Blessed are the poor in spirit?” Beloved in Christ, this is our Savior’s way of calling us to a complete reliance on God. The poor in spirit are the beggarly - those who recognize their spiritual neediness and so look to God for everything. The poor in spirit are those whose disposition is to look to God for everything. The poor in spirit know that all that they have, from forgiveness to their own lives, is due to the fatherly divine goodness and mercy of our Lord.
The poor in spirit are the repentant. The poor in sprit are those who see the suffering of Christ and instead of finding offense in it, see a Savior. The poor in spirit see the suffering of Christ and his shed blood and say, “Lord, Lord have mercy upon me for bringing this upon you.” The poor in spirit are those that know that without the suffering of Christ, the Kingdom of heaven would be only a pipe dream. The poor in spirit see in Jesus a shield that has taken the heat of God’s wrath.
The poor in spirit feel blessed relief to know that they are washed in the waters of forgiveness and that they are nourished by the body and blood of the Savior at his Table.
And because of Christ’s Cross and his Resurrection, the poor in spirit are the citizens of the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ potent Word of promise gives those who look to Jesus for forgiveness the Kingdom of Heaven. God in His grace is their King. - And they are permitted to enjoy and share in His reign. Because of Christ – the Kingdom of heaven is yours too, beloved. It is yours to delight in; it is yours to live in; it is yours because God has blessed you in Christ from the foundation of the world.