J.D. Dillingham worked for 50 years as a conductor on Houston and Texas Central trains. He recorded “The Poor Cowboy” for the Library of Congress in 1935. He said it had been popular in central Texas some 50 years before that.
Oh the poor cowboy, he’s got no home.
He’s here today, and tomorrow gone.
He’s got no hope, he’s forced to roam.
Where he hangs his hat is a home sweet home…
In our days of volatile stock markets and uncertain investment portfolios, there might be something romantic about poor cowboys like these.
But, Jesus knew there was no romance in poverty. He grew up poor. During his ministry he had “no place to lay his head.” If Jesus had been a cowboy, he would have been a cowboy so poor he didn’t have a horse – or maybe a hat!
But, he had HOPE! Jesus begins his first major sermon by describing the kind of people he is looking for. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:2-4).
When Jesus said poor, Jesus could have used:
- Autodiakonis – serving (diakonis – we get our word “deacon” from this word) your needs with your own (auto) hands.
- Penes – not destitute – not rich – you have a few pennies.
Instead, the word Jesus uses here is ptossein – to crouch – to cover – to be on your knees. This word brings a “deer-in-the-headlights” look among some mothers. Ptossein is also the powerful drug that is used to bring on birth! Some women shudder in remembering the power of that drug – it is overwhelming. When applied to poverty, ptossein is profound poverty.
Jesus is talking about spiritual poverty. Many of us are not willing to admit spiritual poverty. When we are not poor in spirit, we find others to blame for our hurt or we withdraw from life. Maybe we deal with our fears and our anger by seeking to be in control. We can assume all will work out only if we are large and in charge. But, then if we do not consider the extent of brokenness in ourselves and in the world, we can damage ourselves and others. When we make any of these choices, we miss out – we will not see the kingdom of God. How sad.
But, please, let’s not get stuck there. Again, ponder how counter-intuitive Jesus is. Poverty of spirit does not disqualify us from the kingdom of God. Jesus promises that we who are poor in spirit will have what we need – God’s riches – God’s blessings in Christ.
Imagine on that great last day – standing before God. The poor in spirit might say something like this to God: “There was once a Teacher, Jesus, who promised the kingdom to those who are too poor in spirit to make up any story trying to make themselves look good. God, my only claim is Jesus. I believe this same Jesus who came preaching of the kingdom of God is the eternal One who came to die in my behalf to pay the eternal debt for my sins.”
So God asks: “Are you so spiritually bankrupt that there is no good reason for you to come into my heaven other than Jesus’ death in your place?”
Then God says: “Ah, now you are talking my language. When you depend on what My Son provides – My grace – you acknowledge your poverty. When you trust in Jesus’ provision, then yours is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus died to show you that I cannot love you more than give you my Son – and that I will not love you less – despite your own brokenness or the brokenness of the world. Welcome.”
How can we receive such a welcome? Paul wrote: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor (ptossein), so that you through his poverty (ptossein) might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Are there any poor in spirit reading this? If you see your poverty and you see Jesus with the blessing he brings, then you can partner with God and look for the places where God is at work. You can look for grace. You can look for redemption. You can look for the kingdom of God. What a life that is!
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,
PS An older friend from Montana replied: Speaking of physical poverty, my Granddad in Montana was a poor cowboy in the 1880’s. He came to eastern Montana broke and went to work on a ranch breaking horses. However, to do this he had to own his own saddle to break horses, which he did not have. The ranch sold him a saddle for maybe $40.00. His monthly wages were board and room and a small salary. He managed to keep working and paid for this saddle over a long period of time, mostly due to the high rate of interest.