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I have a question about the first Beatitude, which Jesus Christ gives in his sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I discover that I am arrogant in my feelings of poverty, and feel superior in a moral sense to those who have ostensible wealth. Yet my desire for material riches is unabated and at the same time unfulfilled out of a fear for my “heavenly future.”
The Guide: To be “poor in spirit” means to be empty, without preconceived ideas. Man’s mind is often “rich” in the wrong way. He knows all the answers. His knowledge often stems from associations based on incorrect information, on misunderstandings. The images, in the sense I have taught you, are products of such fixed ideas based on faulty and emotionally tinged associations.
Only when man can empty himself of all these notions and thus become “poor in spirit,” or in mind, will the true riches flow into him – from within and without. For example, in the discussion about Jesus Christ, many of you “know” that Jesus was not the Messiah, that he is responsible for the Jew’s sufferings, that he is the product of primitive distortions, that he is a fairy tale, that such a person never existed. Or that he is a stern, forbidding master who demands deprivation from you and who prevents you from happiness and self-fulfillment.
The atheist “knows” that there is no God. The scientist only “knows” his most recent discoveries – anything beyond that is often ridiculed. All these are some typical examples of a filled mind, a “rich spirit” that prevents the true treasure. I hope you will not interpret my words to mean that you should discard all genuine learning and knowledge in order to be “poor in spirit.”
What I mean to say here, and what the Bible means to convey with this saying, is that you should learn to discriminate where your knowledge is limited and distorted and where you therefore need an empty mind, an unprejudiced clean slate, in order to be receptive for real wisdom.
Material wealth does not need to be a hindrance to spiritual wealth. It often can be, just as other kinds of power can be. If knowledge is used to deny the Holy Spirit, it is as much of an obstruction as money or any other kind of wealth can be.