It is amazing to me how much the Bible speaks about poverty and how easy it is to pass over the 2,000 references to the poor. When we are not looking for it, we simply don’t see it. It is so easy to read scripture with an agenda and think “How does this passage apply to what I am dealing with right now?” rather than “What is this passage really saying?” I was reading the Beatitudes this morning, comparing two different commentaries and trying to discover what these words would have meant to the Jews who originally heard them.
The Beatitudes have always confused me a bit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Does that mean they are sad? humble? physically poor? sick? If so, how could they be blessed. It amazed me to realize that it seems like Jesus is not really referring to spiritual platitudes here. He is actually talking about the poor, oppressed, suffering, and sick, especially those who are suffering because they are doing their best to live for God.
One of the commentaries I read (Word Biblical Commentary) said “The poor are most always poor in spirit; the poor in spirit are almost always poor.” It’s hard to be cocky when you’re poor (though I’ve met some people who can pull it off). So many people I have met who are poor seem so very hopeless, depressed, lacking any motivation at all. But the followers of Jesus who are poor? Well, they are some of the most blessed people I have met. Why? Because poverty is a hopeless place to sit. Most people who are poor in this world have absolutely no control over their situation (statistics from The New Friars by Scott Bessenecker):
- Combined sales for the top two hundred corporations are more than the combined economies of all but ten countries on earth (32).
- Of the over 2.8 billion workers in the world, nearly half still do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of the US$2 a day poverty line (33).
- Every time the gap between the rich and poor is measured it is larger than the last time it was calculated. The World Bank claims that in the last forty years of the twentieth century, the gap in average income between the twenty richest countries and the twenty poorest countries doubled (35).
What is amazing to me is that in the Beatitudes Jesus is speaking directly to these people. “You are hopeless now? You are suffering now? You are mourning now? You are longing for justice now? Well, let me tell you something: THE KINGDOM OF GOD BELONGS TO YOU.” What an incredible message I have to tell the young women who come to our Right Start groups: God’s heart is for you. He sees you suffering. He loves you. His power and strength belong to you. Christianity is not just for the rich or the middle class. Oh, no. I think more than any other group of people, the good news is for the poor.
Jesus’ mission statement:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Mt. 11:5, cf Is. 61:1)