Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
The word “blessed” came into the English language centuries ago through Christianity. It originally was attached to the old Saxon word “Blod” or “blood” and was attached to the idea of the Christian sacrament. To be blessed was to be “blooded,” or to be made holy to God through the sacrament of grace, based on the shed blood of Christ. It was later attached to the idea of a “benediction” or the bestowal of hope and kindness on others. Then later it was connected to the idea of joy, such as “bliss” that sounded similarly.
It is in this final sense, of Christian happiness or Christian joy, that it is used here. The word from the original Greek was makarios, meaning to be happy or fortunate. The two thoughts in any language require both a condition and an awareness of that condition. Often we curse that which is in actuality a blessing. All of God’s blessings are offered in grace and received by faith. We may have all the conditions for a blessing but out of stubbornness and an unwillingness to trust God not receive the blessing inwardly.
Certainly simple gratitude is part of this – to stop complaining and start thanking God, to stop criticizing others around us and realize how blessed we are to have others who put up with us. But it is not all of it. It is also in the area of recognition of our personal moral and spiritual failures. We are unworthy, and should cry out inwardly and outwardly as Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
John Chrysostom wrote:
What is meant by “the poor in spirit?” The humble and contrite in mind. For by “spirit” He hath here designated the soul, and the faculty of choice… He blesses them first, who by choice humble and contract themselves.
But why said he not, “the humble,” but rather “the poor?” Because this is more than that. For He means here them who are awestruck, and tremble at the commandments of God. Whom also by His prophet Isaiah God earnestly accepting said, “To whom will I look, but to him who is meek and quiet, and trembleth at My words?” [Isaiah 66:2] For indeed there are many kinds of humility: one is humble in his own measure, another with all excess of lowliness. It is this last lowliness of mind which that blessed prophet commends, picturing to us the temper that is not merely subdued, but utterly broken, when he saith, “The sacrifice for God is a contrite spirit, a contrite and an humble heart God will not despise.” [Psalm 51:17] … This Christ also now blesses.
Getting blessed means seeing ourselves for what we truly are and then seeing Christ for who He truly is. That is the gift of God for a truly happy, fortunate, and blessed life.