Thursday, March 13, 2014

Leon Morris and the Quote of the Day on Matthew 5:3

I was reading a bit of Leon Morris' Matthew commentary (Pillar) in which he has a challenge to those of us who have been guilty of misinterpreting or domesticating Matthew 5:3- "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." He writes:

 There are strong protests in modern times against “spiritualizing” and “psychologizing” interpretations of this beatitude, and it is insisted that it must be seen for what it is, a radical reversal of the world’s values. We are told that it is the poor and the distressed as such of whom Jesus speaks. But we must exercise care at this point. Jesus is not saying that poverty is a blessing in itself; to canonize a state of life in which people find themselves against their will (real poverty does not mean voluntarily choosing to live simply) and from which they would escape if they could is scarcely Christian. Now it is true that it is easy for the interpreter smugly to transform the meaning of what Jesus says into an understanding of which the interpreter approves and avoid any real contact with the poverty-stricken. A rediscovery of Jesus’ interest in the poor is long overdue. But I cannot rid myself of the feeling that much modern writing proceeds from the comfortable, people for whom poverty is an interesting subject for discussion but who have never themselves experienced what real poverty is. I have. And poverty is not a blessing, nor is powerlessness. Whatever Jesus meant, it was surely not that these states are blessed in themselves. He knew poverty, and he knew powerlessness in the face of a government that did not care. Any interpretation of his teaching that makes these things in themselves a blessing simply fails to take notice of reality. Jesus is pronouncing a blessing on those empty of any spiritual resource, poor as they often were in material things as well.  

Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B.  Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992; italics mine), 96.

P.S. Incidentally, Jonathan Pennington is the worthy successor to Morris in writing the next Matthew  commentary in the Pillar series (Eerdmans).

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