What Did Jesus Really Say in the Sermon on the Mount?

In this, the first of a special eight part series, A New Look at the Beatitudes, I will be using The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, by Kenneth Wuest since it presents the more philosophical side of Jesus words. To do this, it is extremely literal, sometimes so much so that the English is awkward, but it extracts the full meaning of the Greek wording. The esoteric understanding, of course, will be up to us.

Detail from Carl Bloch's Sermon on the Mount“And having opened His mouth He went to teaching them, saying, Spiritually prosperous are the destitute and helpless in the realm of the spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
–Matthew 5:3

Spiritually prosperous

Wuest is translating as “spiritually prosperous” the Greek word makarios. The word can mean both blessed and happy, but both expressions are too weak. Makarios means supremely blessed or happy in the sense that it is the ultimate degree of blessedness or happiness. Yet, it also means to be fortunate–in the literal sense of possessing a fortune and “well off”–prosperous. The idea is that of spiritual abundance, of spiritual superabundance. “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” (II Corinthians 9:8) The fullness of spiritual capacity and manifestation is implied here. Modern Christianity is so materialistic that virtually every time they speak of being blessed they mean gaining money. This is especially true of the televangelists and their forerunners the “New Thought” churches. Therefore Wuest is certainly justified in putting the adjective “spiritually” in the translation. Otherwise the Sermon on the Mount will just be another “God’s Prosperity Plan For His People.”

Destitute and helpless in the realm of the spirit

Here, too, Wuest is interpolating words, namely: “in the realm of the spirit.” It is necessary for him to do so, because of the “holy poverty” foolishness that reigned for centuries in Western Christianity. Of course the Church was always far from poor, but the clergy got simply tearful at the thought of “lady poverty” and “Christ’s poor.” Jesus did undeniably indicate that wealth and possessions were detrimental to many people, but never did He even hint at the idea that being poverty-stricken would make them virtuous. That is a moronism equivalent to the “suffering ennobles” idea.

In the East there are a lot of people wearing the mask of poverty and incapacity so others will make the money and do the needful for them. We have all known those who constantly had to be “helped” in everything. Even before beginning something they would start whining for assistance or declaring that they did not know how to do it. The inference was that someone should tell them every step until he got sick of it and did it for them. There are many reasons for people to behave in this way, some more perfidious and outrageous than others, but all inexcusable. So, as I say, we have to understand that Jesus is speaking of a spiritual condition when He says: “Spiritually prosperous are the destitute and helpless in the realm of the spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Multiple meanings

The word Wuest translates as “destitute and helpless” is ptochos. This has several meanings, some on the surface and others more subtle, especially in the implications of the root words from which it is derived. Here they are:

  1. To see oneself as a total pauper, destitute of all things, not in the sense of self-pity or self-denigration, but from the knowledge that God being All, all is to found in him, that nothing is of ourselves. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” (II Corinthians 3:5) We possess absolutely nothing. Everything that we “have” comes from God. Consequently we see all things as being in the realm of God and rejoice accordingly in Him. We do not feel fearful or lacking in anything because God is our sustainer. In exhorting the Christians of Corinth to be confident and fearless, Saint Paul reminded them: “Ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (I Corinthians 3:23) That is, we have nothing, but God has everything, and we belong to Him. And in the belonging we possess Him and possess all.
  2. To be a beggar before God. That is, we should be looking to God for everything we need until we come to the realization that it is God Himself we need, that He is ours for the seeking. This does not mean that we whine and grovel before God, but that we depend on Him utterly. This is only good sense, since really we can neither do or be anything apart from Him. Even the most arrogant atheist is thoroughly dependent on God–he just does not realize it. The essence of this aspect though is the continual turning of our awareness Godward.
  3. Those who do realize their dependency on God will then be spiritually prosperous because God will abundantly bestow on them all the riches of the spirit. Only empty hands can be filled. That is why an Indian poet sang: “A beggar at Thy door, Lord, pleading I stand. O grant to me an alms, Lord: love from Thy loving hand.” The love he is asking for is love of God, not love from God. In this realm it is truly “more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
  4. To be “destitute” of the ego, that which is ever grasping after things and claiming to be so much, is to be rich in the spirit. All the “things” of this relative life (death) lie only in the realm of the ego. Those who divest themselves of those things will then live in the spirit and be blessed.
  5. A beggar has no home, but roams about seeking sustenance. Truly “the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) So the spiritually prosperous are those who realize that they are “strangers and pilgrims” (Hebrews 11:13; I Peter 2:11) and do not frustrate themselves by trying to “rest” or “live” anywhere in either the physical, astral, or causal worlds, but who seek the spirit alone. “For our hearts are ever restless till they find themselves in Thee,” said Saint Augustine.
  6. It may not sound so pleasant, but ptochos also means to be distressed. In this instance, though, it means to be “divinely discontent,” to refuse to be satisfied with anything less than the highest spiritual attainment. To never be satisfied with anything less than infinity.
  7. Ptochos comes from pipto, which means to rely–literally to “fall”–utterly on something or someone. Those who trust fully in God and place themselves unreservedly in His hands will not be disappointed. “My hope is in God” is the motto of the spiritually wise. But there is more. Pipto is related to petomai, which means “to fly,” the imagery of ptochos being that of a flying bird or butterfly that lands and comes to rest. In Whispers From Eternity Yogananda wrote: “Endowed with a spark of immortality, I have flown from life to life.…I shall alight at last, O Lord, upon Thine outstretched hand.” Those who are “coming in for a landing” in the Infinite are the spiritually prosperous.
  8. No simile is perfect, and neither is that of a beggar. A beggar ideally is one who has nothing through no choice or fault of his own. But anyone with a bit of observation knows that many “beggars” are simply indolent opportunists. That is why there are actually beggars’ syndicates in eastern countries. Anyone who has spent much time in India is aware of this. There are people in genuine need, but there are many who are frauds preying on the compassion and good will of others. Some, especially the children, have been mutilated by the syndicate so they will make more money. However, another word from which ptochos is derived is peno, which means “to toil for daily subsistence.” So a ptochos is a beggar who works! That is, although we are completely dependent on God and look to Him alone, at the same time we labor in the vineyard of God-realization for our spiritual “daily bread.” As with all reality, it is contradictory–but it is consistent with truth. This is an important point because there are a lot of spiritual layabouts in all religions who excuse their indolence by saying that it is a manifestation of their faith in God and their awareness of their own helplessness. The words are noble, but the motive is ignoble and hypocritical. There is a lot about work and labor in the Bible. Just use a good concordance and see. (“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).)
  9. A minor root word for beggar (ptochos) is ptoeo, when means to be apprehensive, The spiritually prosperous are always aware of their own capacity for failure and act accordingly. They strive to make God their strength and their safety. (“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28,29))

In these matters of the spirit, destitution and helplessness are voluntary. That is, we intentionally divest ourselves of the illusions of possession and power, remembering the words of Jesus: “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras he states that those who are perfectly detached–divested of all “things”–find themselves inundated with “all kinds of precious things.” So those who are in perfect “poverty” become incalculably wealthy in the spirit.

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