Jesus memorably elevates a status that is widely viewed to be lamentable.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
Nobody wants to be so impoverished. Broken down, crushed under an unbearable burden, bereft of emotional strength. It is a state to be avoided when possible, regretted when not, survived if one can.
Or so we thought, until Jesus taught us that holding title to his Father’s rule in this world and the next requires one to experience just such broken poverty.
The psalmist, long before Jesus spoke his chain of blessings upon the most unlikely subjects, took a similar turn.
The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. (Psalm 116:6 ESV)
The word translated ‘simple’ is usually deployed to speak of a fool’s dangerous innocence. פתי in the Hebrew text is a familiar word. It is no compliment.
The word is hung around the neck of vagrants too stupid to learn about life. One is schooled to laugh at such simpletons, the better to make sure one never commits the tragic error of becoming one or becoming like one. Cross the street if you must, for life is too precarious to risk everything on the company of the culpably ignorant.
Yet the poet, with the ironic perception that is common to this literature, sees more deeply, almost anticipating Jesus’ insight that poverty can be the highway to God rather than a roadblock that safely distances a man from him.
The Lord preserves the simple, it turns out. Surely not the self-absorbed, naive fool of the Proverbs, but the hurting man or woman who knows how little he knows. The one with no claim on anybody. The one who decries his own incapacity, wishes he were smarter, longs for understanding but feels he comes up short. Again.
Blessed, we can almost hear Jesus saying ahead of time in the voice of the Psalms he knew so well, is this kind of simpleton. For though he wishes he were a better, more knowing man, YHWH will surround him. Preserve him. Teach him.
That will be enough.