And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.
– Daniel 9:3
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:3 are famous. They are also deep and personally, I would also have thought they were fully explored. But such is Scripture that here I am with yet another word to say about it; another drop of life-giving water He dropped in my heart in a quiet reflective hour.
Blessed are the poor. The New Testament idea of poverty encompasses a whole host of designations for poverty in the Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures recognized different kinds of poverty, and the verbal images they used to portray them were quite powerful. There were, for example, dal, peasants, laborers and menial workers, who had a subsistence, although it was meager and often precarious. The Hebrew term means “that which dangles”, an appropriate representation of the economic uncertainty in which they made their precarious existence.
There were also the mashor. This word is used in the wisdom passages of the Old Testament to refer to the idea of poverty that results from laziness or ostentatious living. Even these people deserve pity and kindness. The lazy are sometimes also called ras, and no, it’s not a Pidgin English description of the way they looked, even though I am sure the image would fit. The ras were often also people living in the poverty brought on by political or economic distress or oppression. They were victims either of their own laziness, or of the failing system.
There were also the ebyon. They were impoverished to the point of pity or repugnance, depending on your sensitivities. They are sometimes described in other terms, such as the “robbed” or “suffering”. They are the victims of wicked people; the afflicted, abused, and downtrodden. This also includes those who may have come upon hard times though they did not necessarily live a life of poverty. Then of course, there were widows and orphans, occasionally the fatherless were also called out for special attention.
The ani, the most reference group of the poor, represent, like the ebyon, the poverty of oppression and injustice. The ani were wrongly dispossessed of life and sustenance. They were robbed by bribed judges, and disenfranchised by family members of their rightful inheritance. They had little power and little say in society, and often no one to speak up for them.
In the New Testament the idea of what a poor person became somewhat consolidated in the single Greek word ptochos. We often need to rely on the context of its usage to identify what kind of poverty is in view. When Jesus used it in the Sermon on the Mount, we are told reliably that He and His audience would have overlooked the agricultural fields bordering the Sea of Galilees. The peasant farmers, the fishermen, poor people with no significant or reliable income, would have been in view. Directly in front of Jesus there would have been many of the poor, quite likely the vast majority, many of who would beg either regularly or occasionally. Certainly among them, walking between and among with cups, bowls and cupped palms, there would have been the lowliest of beggars, equally intrigued by the rumors about the new teacher, but doubtless also hopeful of a few talents or bread crumbs.
Before the eyes of Christ would have been an expansive view of the very people he came to minister to: people who typified the destitute condition of a world perilously short of grace. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The whole scene would have made quite an impression on Him. His eyes saw economic poverty, destitution, and the oppressed of the land, and His mind, I think, was transported to another world.
Jesus saw the beggars of a spiritual economy. With His eyes He saw people struggle for a day’s wage, an evening meal. He saw them beg for fragments that would not satisfy long. He saw them strive for the fruit of the land, the riches of the realm, the glory of a restored Jewish kingdom. In His mind’s eye He would have them beg for the dew of Heaven, for the life-giving water of the Spirit, for the eternal sustenance of the bread of life. The ptochos in the spirit are beggars after heavenly things. They beg for a little light, and the crumbs that fall from the table of truth. They plead for a little time with the King of Kings, a small touch of His garment.
They beg everywhere and all the time. They entreat Him on the streets He walks, they supplicate in houses He enters, they pray in the temple He inhabits. They seek small graces on their knees, direction and counsel in His word. They beg for answers to their feeble prayers, forgiveness for their many and shameful sins. Like the beggars on the street they persist. They beg without ceasing. They lean in the car windows. They sing songs. They intone blessings. The dal in spirit beg of Him bread, and the ebyon relief. The ani of the spirit plead for Heaven’s justice, the mashor for its mercy. The poor in spirit do not beg of men; they do not knock on the earthly doors. Their knock is heard in the chambers of Heaven. They do not crave sugar bread and pure water; their ravenous hunger and burning thirst is for righteousness.
Like the light-skinned begging children who have filled Accra’s streets, they grasp the arms of the Lord and walk with Him great distances, pleading for mercy, and help in time of need. And what do they receive? The kingdom of Heaven.
Only beggars go to Heaven. “Ask and you shall receive” is the great imperative of Heaven on the one who would find true riches. Seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened. The sequence is clear and unmistakable. No one will receive who does not ask; no one will find who does not seek; no one will have heaven’s doors opened to them who do not tearfully and persistently knock. A holistic biblical study shows that asking is not mere asking; it comes closer to the idea of begging. It is humble and self-denying (Daniel 9:3), fervent (James 5:16), persistent (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and untiring (Luke 18:1). What’s more, Jesus gives ample description of the spiritually destitute in our day. Though they think they are “rich and increased with goods”, in reality they are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” That looks very much like a beggar, doesn’t it?
Christ’s grace is there not as much for the taking as for the asking. Heaven is for beggars, and the marriage supper of the Lamb is their banquet. There they will gather, dressed in fine linen, come to finally receive the eternal satisfaction they have pleaded for for years. There will be no one there who was not a beggar, I dare say including our Lord Himself.
That poses a challenge for the twenty-first century high class Christian. Many of us have never had to live the life of a beggar. It is not a life we can easily relate with. Our culture teaches that it is a demeaning of our intrinsic human value. It is undignified. After all, we are the richest, most prosperous generation that has ever lived, and begging is for dogs in chop bars. Perhaps so. For others it is the satisfaction with our own Christianity that deceives us. We mistake church attendance and service to God as faith. We do not see the filthy rags we wear. And yet interestingly – for the cultured, well-dressed self-respecting modern Christian, the very word for worship in the New Testament, proskuneo, literally means to prostrate oneself like a dog. I wonder what for…
Jesus looked on the crowd that day and saw their physical wretchedness. Their wretched rags. He saw their spiritual bankruptcy, but also their national and ethnic pride. This is the irony in the scene that often escapes us, and that I want to add to the tapestry of the beatitudes. Here were people who recognised their physical, economic, and political poverty. They worked hard, and when necessary, they begged for alms and small loans. But at the same time, they esteemed themselves spiritually wealthy: the chosen people of God, more beloved than any other people on Earth, better than the Gentiles and the Samaritans. They were Abraham’s children. As Jesus looked at them He would have lamented the fact that they were beggars after the wrong treasure.
The true blessing is not in receiving a few dinarii or shekels or Cedis; it is in receiving the kingdom of Heaven, and if only – we – would recognise our spiritual poverty, we would beg for it even more earnestly than the worst of beggars on our busy streets. We would beg for grace, for tuth, for forgiveness, for the Spirit… and ours would be the kingdom of Heaven.
Heaven is for beggars. Do you want to go?
 Ps 35:10
 Revelation 19:7, 8
 Isaiah 64:6