Wednesday, January 28, 2009
“A Backwards Blessing – Blessed are the Poor”
Once, I heard a preacher share the following story: “The Reverend Doctor Baptist preacher was holding revival at a rural church. After three inspired sermons one of the senior saints of the congregation commented as she shook his hand on her way out: ‘Sir, when they told my we were having one of those professor types to preach our revival, I was not expecting to get much out of it. But may I say that for a PhD, you preach like a man with no education at all.’”
The people who heard Jesus preach often commented about his education or lack thereof. They asked, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction (John 7:15)?” Jesus’ detractors questioned his teaching: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority (Matthew 21:23)?” To us, Jesus’ teaching is familiar, but in his own day, his teachings seemed bizarre, and even backwards.
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God….but woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation (Luke 6:20, 24).” What a backwards blessing! How ridiculous Jesus sounded to everybody in earshot! In Matthew’s gospel, He says, “the poor in spirit,” but not here. Here, he simply says, “the poor.” He had to be crazy, his listeners thought! What could He possibly mean?
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” In other words, those who don’t have the burden of money idolatry find themselves far more in tune with the things of God. He also said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will love the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).” Mammon was an ancient demon-god who was associated with riches. Jesus was saying that obsession over riches is equivalent to idolatry. So you are blessed if your financial situation allows you to be obsessed with God, rather than with money.
You may say, “Well, I’m not rolling in the dough! Jesus was blessing me!” Oh really? The United States is the wealthiest nation on the planet. The poorest Americans have more than the majority of people in the world. Jesus wasn’t blessing us. He was blessing the poor.
What blessing does Jesus have for us? No blessing, but a woe: “Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
What, then, shall we do? How, then, shall we live? Learn to be content with what you have, rather than trying to accumulate more and more. Live simply, so that out of your abundance you can support causes that allow others in your community to simply live. Let your faith affect the way you treat the poor. Rather than treating them with gut-level contempt, give them the love of Christ. Freely give to support the poor of the world. Don’t let money be your god.
What a radical message Jesus had! Radical for then, and radical for now. Radical for His society, and radical for ours. Will you be brave enough to live His message?