“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-3)
The Sermon on the Mount took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following His baptism and temptation. In Matthew 4:17 Jesus proclaimed “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” He was telling the Jews that the Kingdom of God, long promised in the Old Testament was upon them. He followed this proclamation by outlining the values of the Kingdom, depicting its distinctive characteristics of repentance and righteousness. These characteristics are so unlike the ways of the world, that, over the centuries many have declared the standards of Jesus’ sermon to be unrealistic and unattainable. They are idealistic, lofty and noble but in the light of the perverse wickedness of human nature, they are not practical or feasible. Blessed are the poor in spirit? Blessed are the meek? These characteristics have always been the marks of the weak and foolish, the oppressed and the losers. Such are fit only for slaves, not citizens in a mighty and powerful kingdom. The meek and the poor in spirit don’t get anything but stepped upon. The character traits that people seek and idolize are pride, power, strength, self-sufficiency and self-indulgence.
And yet meekness and poverty of spirit in the midst of a world filled with violence, hatred, sin and selfishness are exactly those characteristics that the Lord expects of His people. No one can measure up to God’s standards because what is demanded are not just good deeds but inner righteousness. But to say the tenets of the Kingdom are beyond reach is to deny the power and truth of Jesus. He gave the principles of the Kingdom because He meant them to be followed. The fact that we find them unattainable only points out the sinful nature of all humanity as well as our need for a Savior. If we want to do what God commands we need His grace, mercy and strength.