“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:1-3)

What does 'blessed' mean?

The word “blessed” - translated from the Greek word μακάριος (makarios), which means to be "blessed" or "happy" - imparts Jesus' confirmation that this is a state that brings joy.

While some versions of the Bible translate "Blessed are the poor in spirit" to simply “Blessed are the poor,” the Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma) - which means according to Thayer's lexicon, "the spirit, i.e. the vital principal by which the body is animated."

In other words, Jesus is not speaking of being financially poor. Being "poor in spirit" is distinctly different than being "poor" - or having a lack of material wealth.

What does 'poor in spirit' mean?

This phrase is describing a consciousness of humility.

To be "poor in spirit" means to have a general disregard for oneself. It means to have abandoned the consciousness that I am the most important person.

This means abandoning the consciousness of self-centeredness. That the world revolves around me and my family, my house, my region, my heritage, and so on.

This contrasts with what we see today throughout the physical world: We see practically everyone is in a consciousness that the world revolves around me. We think we know so much. We think we are so great. We consider ourselves the superstar, the boss, or the best at something. We think that the world is our 'oyster' and everything is meant for our enjoyment.

This consciousness can pervade if we become philosophical, should we try to speculate our way to knowing the Truth. We think we can figure it all out with our tiny brain.

This essentially boils down to pride: We think we are self-sufficient.

What about self-esteem?

Many today teach the importance of self-esteem. They teach that we should love ourselves, and cherish ourselves, and believe that we are the greatest. How does this help us?

Some promote pride as the solution to all sorts of psychological issues: They recommend "self-love" and feeling that we can do anything we want to do. They recommend we need a dose of "I am incredible" and we will be fine.

Such a doctrine sounds fluffy and nice. But the reality is that self-love only leads to self-centeredness. And this is contrary to Jesus' teachings.

The world is not our "oyster." The physical world is a place of learning. We are in a type of classroom, one that teaches us about love and consequences.

Here we have the freedom to express ourselves as we wish according to the culture and restrictions therein. But the world teaches us back with reactions, laws and consequences.

Some of the meanest consequences come as a result of harming others in some way. Often this is a result of our acting with pride and self-centeredness. 

When we are proud of ourselves, and we are focused on ourselves (self-centered) we become oblivious to how our actions may harm others. In our attempts to get what we want, we may remove an opportunity for someone else.

Developing humility as we live in this world will allow us to learn more and grow more.

Humility begins with understanding our limitations. Understanding, first that I don't know it all. Our mind is only a storage device for impulses coming from the senses and the nervous system. It is not all-knowing. Our mind is like a computer hard drive. It stores what is fed into it.

Thus the mind has no entrance into the spiritual realm because the spiritual realm is not perceived by the physical senses. Therefore the mind has no entrance into the spiritual realm.

Our physical lifetime is strung together with one lesson after another. We emerge from the womb in pain - crying and gasping. Throughout our childhood, we deal with life's frustrations, pains and struggles as we try to cope with other children, our parents, and the general demands of the world. We deal with the ‘growing pains’ of peer pressure, school, and the demands of our family, versus our inclinations for freedom and independence.

As our bodies rise to adulthood, we find ourselves having to cope with learning a way to survive on our own. We learn to maintain jobs, finances, spouses, family and everyday aches and pains. 

Life becomes serious in adulthood, and survival is tantamount. In the early adult years, we may work hard at jobs with little future, and take care of children who are themselves confused about the world. 

As our bodies grow older, they begin to become diseased. We are treated with aches and pains inherent in temporary bodies with limited lifespans. Bones, teeth, and muscles all age and weaken. Our eyesight weakens. Our hearing begins to fade. Our memory begins to falter. All of these elements make for a downslide towards the death of this body.

At the time of death, whatever wealth or assets we have accumulated - including our name, reputation and status - all disappear. In one instant - after a lifetime of struggles to accumulate them - everything we thought was ours is snatched away at the time of death.

Where does our self-esteem get us in this context?

The various hopes and dreams we might have about becoming happy in the physical world through the acquisition of fame, wealth, family, and so on are simply that: dreams. They are illusions. These things do not bring happiness. These things only bring more emptiness. They only bring more sorrow. Why?

Because we are not these physical bodies. These bodies are vehicles we drive temporarily. It is like a driver wanting to relieve his hunger by filling up the car with gas. Because the driver is not the car, filling the car with gas will not fulfill the driver.

In the same way, because we are spiritual in essence, physical things cannot fulfill us.

Rather, these physical bodies and this physical world facilitate learning.

Yes, this world and this temporary physical body were designed to teach us. But only if we are ready to learn.

How does humility help us enter the 'kingdom of heaven'?

Now consider what can be taught to a person who thinks they know it all, compared to someone who is humble. The know-it-all doesn't think they need to learn anything. They think they are just fine. So they learn little.

But the humble person is capable of greater learning because they are not so proud of what they might know already.

One might compare it to a cup. If the cup is full, nothing more can be poured in. But a cup that is empty can be filled easily.

In the same way, a humble state allows a person to learn about spiritual life.

Should we at some point realize the futility of thinking we are the center of the universe, we are ready to embrace our innate humble consciousness. This is not fake humility - acting humble. This is feeling humbled.

It is at this point that we become “poor in spirit.” We in effect, giving up on our consciousness that the universe revolves around me, and that I know it all.

At such a point, we are ready to begin our re-entry into the “kingdom of heaven.” 

The 'kingdom of heaven' Jesus is referring to is the place where love of God is the primary consciousness, leaving pride and self-centeredness with no place in our heart. It is a world where love replaces greed. It is the realm where our lust for 'mammon' (or materialism) is replaced by a thirst for pleasing God. 

That 'kingdom of heaven' is a world where we are truly happy because our care and concerns are about loving and serving our Best Friend and Soul Mate, the Supreme Being.

True humility is the realization that our self-centered nature has created our separation from God, and that we do not have the power to change this nature alone. We need His help.

Only in this condition can a person truly take refuge in the Supreme Being and allow Him to guide us. Once we understand that we have no strength of our own, and we need our relationship with Him in order to be happy, we become equipped to enter "the kingdom of heaven."