“Your dad and I have never agreed about what your name is,” my mom teasingly mentioned last week as my dad over-enunciated my name, “Kath-er-ine.” My mom says it more simply “Kathe-rine” with just two syllables.
I find it funny that after 27 years my parents are still discussing how to pronounce my name. I’m not sure it matters, but sometimes the way we say words do matter, such as when we read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. When we say “bles-sed” as two separate syllables, we tend to think of an earned holiness or worthiness. So, when we read, “Bles-sed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” our temptation is to wonder how to force ourselves into a spirit of poverty because we want the promise that follows.
I’m not sure Jesus meant for this sermon to be an “if, then” prescriptive formula for us to follow, though. Perhaps Jesus meant for it to be a “when, then” descriptive message to assure us.
Try this: read Matthew 5 aloud, pronouncing “blessed” with one syllable. Does it change the meaning for you? It does for me. When you ask someone how they are and they say, “I’m blessed,” they don’t usually mean, “I am holy and worthy of honor,” but rather, “I have received something I don’t deserve.”
Why does this distinction matter? I do not earn or deserve any of the good consequences Christ mentions in this passage. I do not inherit the kingdom of heaven because I am poor in spirit. I receive the kingdom of heaven because God gives me good gifts I don’t deserve, and He gives them to me even when I am poor in spirit.
Oh how this comforts my soul. My charge as a Christ-follower is not to strive to make myself poor in spirit, or any of the states Jesus describes in Matthew 5. My charge is to believe Him that He offers me life – eternal and abundant – and all of His good gifts that go with it, no matter what. Thus, in whatever season I find myself, my heart can sing an “extension” of Romans 8:38-39…
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither when we are poor in spirit nor when we are rich in spirit,
neither when we mourn nor when we rejoice,
neither when we are meekness nor when we are bold,
neither when we hunger and thirst for righteousness nor when walk in apathy,
neither when we are merciful nor when we are unrighteously harsh,
neither when we are pure in heart nor when we act out in our wicked flesh,
neither when we are peacemakers nor when we have conflict,
neither when we are persecuted because of righteousness nor when God gives us favor with man,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.