At the end of every year, the Internet and airways are flooded with "top" lists that revolve around money--top earning athletes, actresses, actors, musical acts, etc. My hunch is if you asked the average person on the street to complete this sentence, "Blessed are ______," the type of people mentioned most often would be those who showed up in those kinds of lists. Would anyone say, "Blessed are the 3 billion people living on $2.50 a day or less?" It's the people who make the list as a name and not just a faceless number in a sea of humanity that are celebrated.
And through the ages if you were to ask people-"Who is blessed by God"-the answer is determined by things like wealth. Even today in some Christian circles, people still use this language. You have the right faith, God pours out his favor. So what do they claim God's favor looks like? Money. Riches. Stuff. This is why Jesus' opening declaration in the beatitudes would not just have perked up the ears of the hearers, but blown their minds. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Who?
This does not surprise students of scripture, however. While God does not show favoritism, the world repeatedly does. So God goes out of his way to express inclusion to people like the poor who experience exclusion. God works to balance the scales of justice and calls his people to be agents of compassion, benevolence, and change.
But interestingly this beatitude not only teaches us to have a heart for the poor. We are inspired to have a heart like the poor. We can experience deeper relationship with God, fuller experience of living under his reign, a richer sense of the kingdom's real wealth if we become "poor in spirit." Poverty of spirit means removing the pretense of self-sufficiency. It means recognizing our utter dependency. The old hymn, Rock of Ages conveys this mindset, "Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling."