"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3). What an amazing promise Jesus made! Everyone who is poor in spirit will go to heaven.
He didn’t make this kind of promise just once, either. The Gospels are filled with promises of heaven. Speaking to his disciples after their first attempts at preaching the gospel, Jesus told them: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). On the cross, he promised a repentant thief that he would soon be with him in paradise (23:43). St. John tells us: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36), and Jesus promised that everyone who eats the bread of life will live forever (6:51).
All these promises and so many more reinforce what Jesus said in the Beatitudes, that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven. But was Jesus talking only about a future reward? What about now? Does Jesus really mean for us to suffer here on earth just so that we can someday make it to heaven? If we take a look at what this “kingdom of heaven” is, we will see that it’s something we can begin to experience right now, even as we wait for its fullness at the end of time.
The Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus must have talked about the kingdom a lot. The expressions “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” show up more than seventy-five times in the Gospels alone. So let’s try to identify a few key elements of this kingdom.
First of all, you can’t have a kingdom without a king. In our case, it’s Jesus Christ, King of kings, who is our ruler (Revelation 19:16). As King, Jesus is present among us, both in the gift of the Holy Spirit and in the bread of the Eucharist. He promised to be with us “until the end of the age,” and he has been true to that promise (Matthew 28:20).
Next, you can’t have a kingdom without a set of laws and expectations for its citizens. In our case, the primary law for the kingdom is found in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And what is his will? That we love him, love one another, and bear “much fruit” (John 14:15;15:8,17).
Third, as with all other kingdoms, there is a seat of power. For many kingdoms, that power is manifested in its military or economic might. But for us, the power comes from God, and it is the power of love. Jesus, our King, is constantly at work forgiving us, healing us, changing us into his likeness. He shares his power with us as well, helping us to love and to forgive as he does. His power is available to help us resist temptation and to give us the courage and humility to stand up again when we fall. It is his power—given to us in the form of blessings, grace, mercy, and love—that makes it possible for us to obey his rule.
Seek the Kingdom! Jesus wants us to grasp what his kingdom is about so that we will embrace it more each day. He wants us to seek this kingdom “first,” above all else, so that he can pour his blessings into our lives (Matthew 6:33). He wants us to discover the joy of knowing his presence so that we can trust him and place ourselves under his rule.
On one occasion, Jesus told the Pharisees that driving out demons from a possessed man is proof that “the kingdom of God has come” (Matthew 12:28). On another occasion he told some of Israel’s elders that tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God ahead of them (21:31).
References like these hint toward a present-day dimension of God’s kingdom. They help us see that those who are poor in spirit can enter into the kingdom of heaven—at least to some degree—right now. They also tell us that we can enjoy life in God’s kingdom as we experience his presence and his power at work in us.
Long before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah had an experience of God that gave him—and us—a glimpse of the kingdom of God. One day when he was praying, he had a vision of God in all his heavenly glory. Face-to-face with such majesty and holiness, Isaiah was struck to the heart. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips . . . yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5). Similarly, Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13), a prostitute from Capernaum (Luke 7:47-48), Peter (Luke 5:8), and Paul (Acts 9:1-11) had profound conversions after they experienced Jesus. Each of them saw their condition in a new light, and it humbled them. They saw how their sinfulness contrasted with Jesus’ perfection. They saw their own spiritual poverty. They saw that they were poor in spirit and as a result, they received the kingdom of heaven.
All these stories tell us that if we want to experience the blessings of the kingdom of God, we need to give Jesus the chance to reveal himself to us. As we come to see Jesus in his magnificence, our own imperfections will also come to light. Seeing this contrast between Jesus’ perfection and our sinfulness moves us to humble ourselves. The contrast between Jesus’ selflessness and our selfishness reveals our spiritual poverty. And the only solution to the poverty we see in our lives is a decision to surrender ourselves to the Lord because we know that he has the riches we need. Only he can heal our poverty of spirit.
God’s Dwelling Place. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we had the luxury of sitting at Jesus’ feet or hearing him preach the Sermon on the Mount? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could be standing right next to Peter or Mary Magdalene while Jesus told his parables? Unfortunately, we don’t have that blessing available to us. It’s comforting, then, to know that so many saints have gone before us with the same “disadvantage” and have grown very close to Jesus. Like all of them, we too can rely on faith, on the power of the Holy Spirit, and on the guidance of Scripture and the church.
St. Paul once prayed that Christ would dwell in our hearts “through faith” and that, as we are “rooted and grounded in love,” we might be able to join the saints in grasping “the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love (Ephesians 3:17-18). Faith is critical! We need to believe that our loving God wants to reveal himself to us, to live with us, to move among us (Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; 2 Corinthians 6:16). It’s that we trust that Jesus will bless those who cannot see but who still believe (John 20:29). We all need to believe Jesus when he said: “Remain in me, as I remain in you” (15:4). It is critical that we take him at his word when he said: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (15:9).
Brothers and sisters, Jesus wants us to believe with all our hearts that he wants to come and make his home in us. He wants to be with us all day, every day. We were created to be a dwelling place for the Lord so that he might fill us with his love and use us as instruments of his grace in this world.
It’s one thing to believe in God, but it’s another thing to have the kind of faith that holds him as our dearest possession. We all have treasures. Family, money, possessions, friendships, or health are good examples. But God wants us to hold him above all these, and we will to the extent that we see Jesus in his glory and majesty.
Try to meditate on the promises of God that are listed above. Use your imagination. Don’t just settle for words. Picture Jesus, radiant in glory, standing at the Father’s right hand. Hear every person in heaven, including your relatives, singing his praises. Imagine Jesus pouring his blessings upon you and all his people. Let these images move you to pray: “Lord, I really am poor in spirit. You are my treasure. Come, Jesus, and fill me up.”
Standing in His Presence. When we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus, all of our philosophies and assumptions are turned upside down. All of our worldly treasures and priorities diminish in importance. We find ourselves in awe of his mercy and his love. Our only response is to bow down before him. We find ourselves filled with joy because we know that Almighty God is living in us, filling us with his love and his grace. We are blessed indeed, for the kingdom of God is ours.