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Matthew 5:1-5

Blessed are the poor, the grieving, the meek.

Tom Faletti

April 20, 2024

Matthew 5:1-2 The setting for the “Sermon on the Mount”


Matthew introduces his first compilation of Jesus’s teachings.  He ultimately has 5 of these “discourses.”


Why does Matthew set this scene on a mountain?


We can compare this to Moses presenting the Law on Mount Sinai.


Jesus was seated because that is how Jewish teachers taught.


Although this says it is addressed to the disciples, Matt. 7:28 tells us that it is being heard by crowds of people.  Matthew has compiled teachings that Jesus would not have presented all at once.  Therefore, there is not a specific, single crowd envisioned by Matthew.  We will see that Matthew frequently gathers together different things that Jesus said or did that might not all have happened in one time or place.  He carefully organizes his material to help us understand what Jesus said and did.


Matthew 5:3-12 The Sermon on the Mount – who is blessed in the kingdom of heaven?


These statements of Jesus are known as the “Beatitudes,” from the Latin word for “blessed.”  There are generally considered to be eight beatitudes in Matthew, whereas Luke only has four.


Verse 3


What does “blessed” mean?


What does “poor in spirit” mean?


“Poor in spirit” does not mean spiritually poor.  A person who is “poor in spirit” is actually spiritually rich.  So what is the opposite of poor in spirit?  What does a life look like that is not “poor in spirit”?


How can a person become, or try to be, poor in spirit?


Is “poor in spirit” different from “poor,” which is how Jesus says it in Luke’s account in Luke 6:20?


It is possible that Jesus said it in different ways at different times, since he probably preached the same message many times in different places.  The New Jerome Biblical Commentary argues that “the addition of ‘in spirit’ changes the emphasis from social-economic to personal-moral: humility, detachment from wealth, voluntary poverty” (Benedict T. Viviano, O.P., “The Gospel According to Matthew,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, para. 24, p. 640), but some commentators find no significant difference.


Barclay tells us that the Greek word here is the word for “absolute and abject poverty” (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 85).  He then walks through the development of the phrase “the poor” in the Old Testament, where it shifted from being simply a word for economic poverty to a word for lack of power and influence, to a word for being oppressed and downtrodden, to a word for putting one’s whole trust in God because one has no other resources.  The Psalms repeatedly talk about “the poor” as people who trust in and rely on God (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 86).  The Bible does not give any sign that God finds value in the life-destroying effects of abject poverty, so perhaps Matthew included the words “in spirit” to make it clear that Jesus was not praising abject poverty in itself but rather the attitude of trust in God that some poor people have because of their lack of anything else to put their trust in. 


Can a person be wealthy yet poor in spirit?  If so, what would it look like?


Can a person be educated yet poor in spirit?  If so, what would it look like?


Can a person be popular or famous and still be poor in spirit?  What would it look like?


Considering all that we have talked about, what is the attitude or approach to life of a person who is poor in spirit?

One might say: People who are poor in spirit exhibit a fundamental dependency on God rather than on anything else, and treat people as all having an equal claim on the resources of the earth rather than focusing on their own right to own their own resources.


In Luke, Jesus says, “yours is the kingdom of God,” but in Matthew the poor in spirit are referred to in the third person (“theirs is the kingdom of heaven”) (Matthew 5:3, NRSV).  What might be the significance of the fact that in Luke the audience is included in the category of the poor?


According to this verse, what do people get or have, if they are poor in spirit? 


What does it mean to have the kingdom of heaven?

If you have the kingdom, that means you are where God is and have all that God wishes to give to you.  Jesus said that, with his arrival, the kingdom of heaven is now at hand – i.e., right near you.  The poor dwell (or will dwell, to the extent that this is a promise going forward rather than an immediate reality) in that place.  And we understand from the Lord’s Prayer that where God’s kingdom has come, God’s will is done.  So if the poor have that kingdom, they have citizenship in that place where God’s will is done – and is done for them as much as for everyone else, unlike in earthly kingdoms.


Verse 4

  What do you think this beatitude is envisioning that people are mourning about?


People have seen many forms of mourning in this passage:

  • They might be grieving due to their own losses or difficult lives: the death of a loved one, the effects of illness, mistreatment by others, the suffering that accompanies doing what is right.

  • They might be deeply sorrowful for their sins, mourning their own failure to live up to what God has called them to be.

  • They might be mourning the sufferings of others: grieving the injustices and evils that the world tolerates and the poor treatment of the lowly and needy.


Is this beatitude only offering comfort when bad things inevitably happen or when we recognize our sinfulness?  Or is it also calling us to take proactive action to choose to mourn situations that go beyond our own little world; and, if so, what should we be mourning?


Why would the fact that you will be comforted (in the future) make you blessed that you are mourning now?  Wouldn’t it be better to not have to be mourning in the first place?

What do you think the nature of the “comfort” is?

Verse 5

  What does it mean, to be “meek”?  What does it look like?


Barclay says that the Greek word for meek, praus, had several meanings.  Aristotle used one of its meanings to talk about the virtue of meekness.  According to Barclay, Aristotle defined meekness as the happy medium between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 91).


When, if ever, might a meek person be angry and still be meek?


Another Greek meaning for the word “meek” that Barclay highlights is the word used to describe an animal that is domesticated and trained to obey the commands of its master (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 91-92).


How is meekness related to being responsive to the leading of God?


Barclay also notes a third meaning: the humility that is the opposite of pride and lofty-heartedness (William Barclay, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 92).  I have heard humility described as living in recognition of one’s true place, with neither too high a view of oneself nor too low a view of oneself.  This humility does not mean self-abasement, despite the extremes to which some people may take it.  As modern people say, “God doesn’t make junk”; so we do not need to debase or dishonor ourselves in order to be meek.


What is true humility?


Can I do something to become meek?


The Greek word for “earth” is used in the Bible in a variety of ways: for ground, earth, soil, etc.; and also for territory, as in “the land of Israel”; and also for the Earth or physical realm of our existence, as in “heaven and earth” and “a new heaven and a new earth.”


The promise that comes for the meek is that they will inherit the earth.  What does it mean, that the meek shall inherit “the earth”?



Take a step back and consider this:


The poor, the meek, and those who are mourning are not the people at the top of the social ladder, and poverty, mourning, and meekness are not likely to move people to the top of the heap in society.  But Jesus is beginning to develop a thread of teaching here that will continue throughout Matthew’s Gospel, telling us that God views things very differently than the typical society does. In Jesus’s downside-up view of the world, those who are seen as at the bottom from the world’s perspective are prominent in God’s perspective.


Matthew will show us that a lot of Jesus’s teachings build on Old Testament themes.  But here, Jesus has broken totally new ground.  Nowhere in the Old Testament are we told that the poor are blessed.  The people who help the poor are blessed, and God hears the cries of the poor, but never does the Old Testament suggest that there is any blessedness associated with being poor.  Jesus is asking us to think differently.


When you see a poor person, does your mind say, “The kingdom of heaven is theirs”?  Do you think of those who are humble rather than grasping as being the ones who will inherit the earth?  How might you treat the poor and the meek differently if you keep firmly in mind that Jesus declares them blessed and says that the earth and the kingdom of heaven belong to them?


Click here for the bibliography.

Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and See for more materials like this.

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