Blessed are the poor…

  Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh… But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep….” (Luke 6:20-21, 24-25)

What does this mean? Are poor Christians the only good Christians? Are wealthy people banned from the kingdom of heaven? Is money a sin and wealth a crime? Should all Christians give away their possessions and live in poverty until the Day Christ appears in glory?

Some Christians have taken the words of Jesus in that way. Others have read the rest of the Bible and have found more context for these sayings of Jesus. God has blessed the wealthy—he did not reject Abraham or David or Solomon or Lydia because they had worldly wealth. He allowed Job’s wealth to be stripped away from Job, but at the end of the test he gave Job twice as much wealth as he had at the beginning. If Jesus wanted all Christians mired in poverty, he could not expect us to give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, or shelter to the homeless. If Jesus wanted all Christians to be mired in poverty, he would not expect his people to set aside money to help the poor, to do the work of the Church, and to support workers who spend their careers working for the Church and Christ’s kingdom.

At times, Jesus seems sympathetic toward capitalism. He tells parables about investing money, expecting a profit (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). In fact, Jesus told more stories about money and investment and business than he told about planting seeds, tending crops, or taking care of sheep. Jesus knew that his followers would be involved in the world. He always intended to bless some of them with worldly wealth, making it possible for them to love their neighbors and to provide for the needs of the poor and the oppressed.

The problem is not with how much money people have; the problem is with how much money people want. A poor person can still be guilty of idolatry, dreaming about the wealth and riches he or she desires. The Ten Commandments close with warnings against coveting—wanting the property of another person. God blesses some people in poverty and some people in wealth. Being poor in spirit is not a matter of how much you own; being poor in spirit is a matter of how much your possessions own you.

The Bible endorses no economic system. Through history, most Christians have accepted whatever economic system surrounds them, doing their best to love God and serve their neighbors with any blessings God provides. When given a choice, though, the Christian does not only ask, “What is best for me?” The Christian asks, “What is best for my neighbor? Which system offers the greatest promise of helping the poor and oppressed, of making life better for all people?” In the rare instances where Christians may choose, their choice should reflect love for neighbors rather than greed and self-centered thinking.

Jesus said, “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When those who heard it asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus did not answer, “the poor, and those who give away all their possessions to become poor.” Instead, he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Salvation comes only from the work of Jesus Christ. It is not earned by being poor or by becoming poor. Jesus endorses neither capitalism nor socialism; Jesus condemns neither capitalism nor socialism. He rescues sinners whether they are rich or poor or middle class; he rescues sinners whether they live in a capitalist country, a socialist country, or any other kind of country. The work of Jesus is for all people; Christianity transcends politics and economics. J.

8 thoughts on “Blessed are the poor…

  1. You said…

    The Bible endorses no economic system. Through history, most Christians have accepted whatever economic system surrounds them, doing their best to love God and serve their neighbors with any blessings God provides. When given a choice, though, the Christian does not only ask, “What is best for me?” The Christian asks, “What is best for my neighbor? Which system offers the greatest promise of helping the poor and oppressed, of making life better for all people?” In the rare instances where Christians may choose, their choice should reflect love for neighbors rather than greed and self-centered thinking.

    Previous to that I found this:

    Others have read the rest of the Bible and have found more context for these sayings of Jesus.

    I wish to challenge your assertion(s) at least in part.

    For starts, ECO – NOMY basically means HOUSE RULES. The money part kinda confuses things a bit, I think. Not all economy is about money. But of course, the money part is what interests me too, presently.

    I think the Kingdom Economy is endorsed in the Bible – and most profoundly in the New Testament (but based on the Old too). While it is not a godless communism, it is very deeply and inalterably communal. We SHARE our wealth sacrificially. To the extent it is capitalist, JUBILEE frustrates the selfish side of it.

    I certainly concur with the notion that we are more concerned with our neighbors well being than our own. But I find the Jubilee expressed in the church (IN LUKE esp) through the selling of all our property, giving it to the church, and redistributing so that no one lacks what they need. This seems to harken back to that eye of a needle passage you also cited. The rich man is told he LACKS one thing, and it looks like he lacks the KINGDOM ECONOMY which makes it so no one lacks anything.

    By the way, that camel passage also says it is HARD for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Those of us who are rich should probably consider that very carefully. If we are finding it easy to enter, we are likely deceived. I will leave it at that and not rush to judgment. But I will put out the caution there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make some good points, and I do not entirely disagree. But I will assert that the Jubilee concept was an Old Testament requirement of Israel that was not commanded for all Christians in the New Testament. They shared property and wealth for a while in Jerusalem; Paul then gathered voluntary offerings from congregations in other places to help the saints in Jerusalem. Christian congregations still take special offerings to help the poor. That can happen in capitalist countries, socialist countries, or under any other political/economic system. We can call it communal–it most certainly indicates love for our neighbors–but it does not replace capitalism or socialism.
      Moreover, in the camel passage Jesus himself introduces the word “impossible” (Luke 18:27) and then asserts that salvation of the rich is possible for God–a reflection of salvation by faith, not by works, but also an indication that the wealthy cannot save themselves even by giving away all their wealth. That said, I appreciate your caution towards those who find it easy to enter; we are easily fooled into thinking we have done something ourselves that can by done only by God for us. In that, you and I agree. J.

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      • Thanx for your response. Thanx for being agreeable!

        I don’t know you, nor you me. First time commenter here. I read your post a couple times before as I go looking for the conversation on such matters, and today it seemed like I should engage.

        Preface:

        Not knowing each other, I suppose I look for a category of conversant and so forth. Not sure what I have in that way here. I read a little bit of your other stuff, not much.

        I do not wish to waste your time or mine. I once was a Bible nerd type who was on the fringe of trendy cool theology and so forth, but after so much time on the streets, I find that to be an empty endeavor.

        I don’t wish to argue for the sake of arguing either. I had a friend that did that with me back when we thought we would go to law school together. I ultimately did not. But I find that to be a waste of time and of good will.

        I have political interests, but I am not a champion of either party, nor of conservatives or liberals. Though I count myself as conservative in general, but NOT committed to that. Most definitely NOT tribal about it. And I don’t vote.

        I am into the politics of Jesus, and that is a whole OTHER thing.

        But… I don’t know it all. I am learning. IF you have something to teach me, I will try to be teachable. I would hope we all do that. I read a lot of experts, some convince me more than others. Expertise may have value, but that value is relative.

        So…

        What makes you say, “the Jubilee concept was an Old Testament requirement of Israel that was not commanded for all Christians in the New Testament.”?

        Actually, I would have traded the word requirement with the word commanded in that thought. But as I understand you, (and this really could be a misunderstanding), the Jubilee is done away with for us, a little like animal sacrifice, circumcision, and dietary restrictions. But I never heard that. I wonder where you get that idea… assuming I understand you.

        On the contrary, it was my understanding that Jubilee was commanded of the Jews of old, but they never practiced/heeded it. Meanwhile, forgiveness of debt as GOOD NEWS preached to the poor seems very Lukan, in my view. The church of Acts 2 and 4 in Jerusalem certainly felt moved to honor something very LIKE that old command that the Jews did not. I am reading scholars now who detect this practice (or a teaching leading to it) in Corinth and Philippi and possibly all Pauline churches. I am reading about a few churches in Europe and a couple here in America striving to imitate.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am thankful for your willingness and desire to discuss and to learn from each other without debate. That’s a good thing. You understand me correctly in saying that the Jubilee Year is like animal sacrifices, circumcision, and dietary restrictions–part of the old covenant that prepared the way for Christ, but no longer included in the new covenant because Christ has fulfilled the Law for us. That said, the Jubilee Year is a wonderful picture of the freedom and forgiveness we experience under the new covenant. Its primary expression is that we forgive one another (and all who sin against us) as Jesus has forgiven us. Financial forgiveness may well be included, but I’m sure you agree that forgiveness and freedom are not limited to money matters. A gathering of Christians that seeks to express total forgiveness through canceling financial debts strikes me as a beautiful picture, provided that they do not disregard the other forgiveness, freedom, and healing of the Gospel through that one expression of Gospel. Beyond that, I cannot imagine a way any human government can be made to follow the commandment of the Jubilee Year as it is revealed in the books of Moses–that commandment was for Old Testament Israel and does not carry over into New Testament times, so far as I can see. You are right that Old Testament Israel did not observe the Jubilee Year as God commanded. That neglect is among the reasons given for the seventy years of captivity in Babylon. Once again, that is part of the old covenant of consequences for obedience and disobedience, a covenant that ends at the cross where Christ our Savior pays the entire debt for all our sins. God’s blessings to you. J.

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    • Thank you, Kevin. I agree: Jesus did not make economics or politics a high priority in his teaching, but we receive guidance all the same from what he said. When we follow his path, we will adopt his priorities of forgiveness for sinners and rescue for the victims of sin. At the same time, every other aspect of our lives is affected as well. J.

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