This is the first of five meditations on the Beatitudes based on my book DIVINE REVERSAL, given at the Hashivenu Forum, 2/1/10.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Messiah describes those who are positioned to receive from God. The poor in spirit, those who live with mourning, meekness, and hunger in this age, are headed toward triumph and celebration in God’s kingdom.
But Yeshua doesn’t commend poverty and mourning from afar, like someone who tosses out an easy “God bless you” as he hands a dollar bill to the stranded woman with the cardboard sign and speeds off. Before Yeshua commends poverty of spirit, he embodies it himself by descending from the heavenly throne room to live among us. As one of us, he embraces want, misunderstanding, wholesale rejection, and even death itself. He shows us what “poor in spirit” looks like and then invites us to share it with him. “Come to me. . . . Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
We learn from Messiah that we don’t attain kingdom and comfort through our spiritual exertions, but through yoking ourselves to him. And we learn that, under his yoke, the promise is not only for the age to come, but for here and now. From this vantage point our translation, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” doesn’t quite fit. “Blessed” has a whiff of the sanctimony that Yeshua loves to overturn. It’s the sort of word bestowed by one above upon one below. And it isn’t necessarily true to the original. A better word might be “Happy,” as in the Hebrew Ashrei—the word that introduces the entire book of Psalms:
Ashrei—Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked,
or taken the path of sinners,
or joined the company of the insolent;
rather, the teaching of the Lord is his delight,
and he studies that teaching day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 NJPS)
So, instead of Beatitudes, we will speak of the Ashrei of Messiah.
Ashrei isn’t the surface happiness that bubbles up for a moment, but happiness in its older sense of a good situation in life. We might translate it today as “in good shape.” So, you are in good shape when you are poor in spirit, for you have the kingdom of heaven. You are in good shape when you are mourning, for you’ll receive comfort.
We can easily imagine blessing being delayed until the age to come. Happiness bursts into this age. Blessing can sound pious. Happiness highlights the paradox: As we take on Messiah’s yoke, linking ourselves to him in the bond of sacrifice and rejection, we are in really good shape. When Yeshua says “Happy are the poor in spirit,” he invites us into his poverty of spirit, which is the true wealth.
© 2010, Russell Resnik