What did Jesus mean by: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” ? A Poet’s Interpretation…

Scouting for airplanes_Ethiopia 1985_photo by Sebastiao SalgadoPhoto by Dorothea Lange 1930s_Family on the road_Tulelake CaliforniaAugust Sander photographer_Gypsy_circa 1930Beggar_August Sander_1920sBeggar with a Lyra_Svishchev Paola early 1900sOklahoma sharecroppers couple_1914

Alice Walker (born 1944, Eatonton, Georgia, U.S.A.)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit (for theirs is the kingdom of heaven)”


Did you ever understand this?

If my spirit was poor, how could I enter heaven?

Was I depressed?

Understanding editing,

I see how a comma, removed or inserted

with careful plan,

can change everything.

I was reminded of this

when a poor young man

in Tunisia

desperate to live

and humiliated for trying

set himself ablaze;

I felt uncomfortably warm

as if scalded by his shame.

I do not have to sell vegetables from a cart as he did

or live in narrow rooms too small for spacious thought;

and, at this late date,

I do not worry that someone will

remove every single opportunity

for me to thrive.

Still, I am connected to, inseparable from,

this young man.

Blessed are the poor, in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Jesus.

(Commas restored).

Jesus was, as usual, talking about solidarity:  about how we join with


and, in spirit, feel the world, and suffering, the same as them.

This is the kingdom of owning the other as self, the self as other;

that transforms grief into

peace and delight.

I, and you, might enter the heaven

of right here

through this door.

In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,

we might remain poor.




© 2011, Alice Walker


“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

is quoted from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, verse 3, in The Bible.

.     .     .

Alice Walker is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist, short-story writer, poet and activist.   Earlier this month Walker was interviewed for The Observer Magazine by Alex Clark.  Walker told her:

“In each of us, there is a little voice that knows exactly which way to go.  And I learned very early to listen to it…”

.     .     .


Ethiopia, 1985 – Sebastião Salgado

Tulelake, California, 1930s – Family on the road – Dorothea Lange

Germany, 1930 – Gypsy man – August Sander

Germany, late 1920s – Beggar – August Sander

Russia, around 1920 – Beggar with lyra – Nikolai Svischev-Paola

Oklahoma, U.S.A., 1914 – Old couple, sharecroppers – photographer unknown