The first Beatitude is the most important -foundational to the rest. Its two parts balance each other: blessed are the poor in spirit describes the condition and for theirs is the kingdom of heaven describes the outcome. One follows the other. Those who are not poor in spirit miss out on the kingdom.
Right away it sounds wrong doesn't it? Surely it should be: 'Blessed are the rich in spirit.' People who are obviously alive and rich in faith with deep faith, Bible knowledge and gifted prayer lives. Poor in spirit sounds weak and pathetic. Spiritually sub-par. Little spiritual depth. In short, not very good Christians. Is the key to Christian living that I say: 'I'm not a very good Christian'? Actually, YES. Jesus says that I must admit to a kind of spiritual poverty. The word 'poor' is strong and relates to the abject poverty of the hopeless beggar. J.B. Phillips translates it: Happy are the humble-minded for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Two stories illustrate contrasting challenges of this beatitude. The first poignantly records 12 men who behave like schoolboys in Mark 10: 35-45. Handpicked by Jesus, with him day and night, they should know better than anyone else about what it means to belong to him. Only a couple of years before James and John were fishermen. Jesus had met them preparing their nets in the boat with their father Zebedee. That was their life. When he called them to follow him they began a steep learning curve on discipleship. But by now they think they have been around long enough to ask a question of Jesus: Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask. It sounds presumptuous doesn't it? Rather entitled?
When Jesus replies: What do you want me to do for you' there is no hesitation 'Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory'. It's like: Bags the right throne, bags the left! They have passed the point of needing to grow further in God's grace. What arrogance, self-magnification is on display. They know that if they don't ask they won't get and they are so full of themselves they go straight for it. No subtlety. They are so pumped up! Rich in spirit! Sure of their place ahead of others. Pumped up disciples.
Jesus gently says they don't know what they are asking. They retort: Oh, yes we do1 The other 10 express their annoyance that James and John have got in first. The whole scenario of pumped up discipleship is writ large and leads to Jesus' teaching that the greatest must be the servant of all.
This story underlines how the first beatitude is a correction beatitude to Christians who see themselves as bigger than others!