Q: Why does the Bible say, “Happy are the poor,” when we see the poverty stricken in so much despair? — P.P.

A: The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most well-known sermons given by Jesus, but the reference to the poor is often misquoted. In this great sermon, Jesus blesses the poor “in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). If Jesus had omitted the last two words, they would have all rejoiced, for they were all poor — but Jesus said, “the poor in spirit.”

Hidden in these seemingly cryptic words was the first foundational secret of happiness. At first it sounds like a contradiction. We usually think of people who are poor as being unhappy. But Jesus teaches that happiness can be found in spite of poverty. What kind of poverty did Jesus have in mind? Did He mean those who had very little of this world’s goods? No. Certainly they were included. But Jesus was speaking to people of every type — rich or poor, sick or well, educated or uneducated, young or old. God is concerned about every person on this planet, and Jesus’ words were addressed to everyone in every circumstance and in every generation.

“Poor in spirit” is to be aware of our spiritual poverty. No one is more pathetic than he who is in great need and not aware of it. The body can be strengthened by food and water, but the soul cannot not be nourished apart from the Spirit of the living God. The soul, created in the image of God, cannot be fully satisfied until it knows God in the proper way. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

This column is based on the words and writings of the late Rev. Billy Graham.

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