The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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Poverty, peculiar blessings of

One need only read the Blessings of Jesus in Luke 6 to gain a sense of Jesus' favoritism toward the poor and the disadvantaged:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied."

"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh."

"Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man."

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort."

"Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry."

"Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep."

"Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (vv 20-26).
But why does Jesus single out the poor and the hungry for special attention over any other group?

One writer has pointed out that, in gospel terms, the disadvantaged have the following "advantages":

  1. The poor know they are in urgent need of redemption.
  2. The poor know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people, but also their interdependence upon one another.
  3. The poor rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor expect little from competition and much from cooperation.
  6. The poor can distinguish between necessities and luxuries.
  7. The poor can wait, because they have acquired a kind of dogged patience born of acknowledged dependence.
  8. The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated, because they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threat or a scolding.
  10. The poor can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.
So, through no choice of their own (they may desperately wish otherwise), poor people find themselves in a position more amenable to the grace of God. They are needy, dependent, and dissatisfied with life; for that reason they may be more likely than others to welcome God's free gift of love.

Go back over the list of 10 points above, substituting the word "rich" for "poor", and changing each sentence accordingly, eg: "The rich do not know they are in urgent need of redemption." Do these statements generally hold true? Remember: in Luke 6 above, Jesus does not stop after discussing the poor -- he goes on to talk about the rich also!

Now, one more exercise; and be warned -- this is something far more threatening:

Go over the list one more time, substituting the word "I", making multiple choice statements, eg: "I know/do not know that I am in urgent need of redemption." "I know/do not know my dependence upon God... "

Evaluate yourself. Honestly, in your case, which option is most true?

In short, in Biblical terms, am I "poor" or "rich"?

The poor are not necessarily more virtuous than anyone else -- human nature being what it is. But the poor are far less likely to pretend to be virtuous. They know they are sick, they know they need a physician, and they know they can't heal themselves or hide behind formalities!

If we are comfortably situated, the words of Jesus above may sound a little like patronizing slogans, afterthoughts tossed to the unfortunates of the world: 'Well, since you aren't rich, and your health is bad, and your face is wet with tears, I'll toss you a few nice phrases to make you feel better.'

But the words of Jesus are really profound insights into the mystery of human existence. The poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the oppressed really are blessed -- not because of their miserable states, of course (Jesus worked long and hard to remedy those miseries) -- but because of an innate advantage they hold over those more comfortable and self-sufficient.

People who are rich, successful, and beautiful may go through life relying on their natural gifts. But there is a chance, just a chance, that people who lack such natural advantages may cry out to God in their time of need.

And there is a chance, even a slimmer one, that the "rich" can learn from the "poor" that -- really! -- their fine robes are only moth-eaten rags, their bank accounts are shadows in the night, their health is the passing breeze, and their beauty is the flower of the field, that fades in the merest moment.

We have the poor to teach us the value of dependence. Unless we learn to depend on God we will never experience His grace in His eternal kingdom when Christ returns.

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