In the first 3 chapters of The Divine Conspiracy Willard frames the need for someone to help us to learn “the inverted life,” to embrace the life that God has for his creation. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) provides access to Jesus’ thoughts on the kingdom and how one might seek first the kingdom. (Matt 6:33)
Willard also suggests that the Sermon on the Mount is the place where Jesus answers two questions that other ethical teachers have answered in other classical discourses. Those two questions are “Which life is the good life,” (found roughly in Matt 5:3-20) and “who is truly a good person” (found roughly in Matt 5:20-7:27).
Willard believes that the Beatitudes (Matt 5:2-12) has spooked Bible readers for centuries. There is a mystery behind them, provoking a Bible reader to ask “how do we live by these statements?” Bible readers might say that we should “be like that,” when they read these popular statements. Is that what Jesus was getting to when he said these words?
Willard spends some space trying to illustrate how these Beatitudes should be read and how some of the English translations have a difficult time really portraying what his words can mean. The first Beatitude appears to be the most challenging.
Blessed are the poor in spirit… Willard gives this overview of what Jesus may have been alluding to:
“Standing around Jesus as he speaks are people with no spiritual qualifications or abilities at all. You would never call on them when ‘spiritual work’ is to be done. There is nothing about them to suggest that the breath of God might move through their lives. They have no charisma, no religious glitter or clout.
They ‘don’t know their Bible.’ They ‘know not the law,’ as a later critic of Jesus’ work said. They are ‘mere laypeople,’ who at best can fill a pew or perhaps an offering plate. No one calls on them to lead a service or even to lead in prayer, and they might faint if anyone did.
They are the first to tell you they ‘really can’t make heads nor tails of religion.’ They walk by us in the hundreds or thousands every day. They would be the last to say they have any claim whatsoever on God. The pastes of the Gospels are cluttered with such people. And yet: ‘He touched me.’ The rule of the heavens comes down upon their lives through their contact with Jesus. And then they too are blessed – healed of body, mind, or spirit – in the hand of God.” (100-101)
Jesus does not demand one to be poor in spirit so they can be blessed… rather, it is the kingdom that is arriving among them. The poor in spirit are the “ground-zero” or portal for the kingdom of heaven.
Willard summarizes how the Beatitudes operate:
“They serve to clarify Jesus’ fundamental message: the free availability of God’s rule and righteousness to all of humanity through reliance upon Jesus himself, the person now loose in the world among us. They do this simply by taking those who, from the human point of view, are regarded as most hopeless, most beyond all possibility of God’s blessing or even interest, and exhibiting them as enjoying God’s touch and abundant provision from the heavens.” (116)