“….you're all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You…you said…what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save money before they even think of a decent home? Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they…Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about…they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath…” George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life
Poverty is not God’s will. Poverty is opposed to life. It creates despair and hopelessness. It is not life giving. Yet God works in a special way among poor people, for poor people and through poor people. If poverty is not God’s will, how can it be such a pivotal place for meeting God, and why was it significant in the Gospels of Jesus? Early in the ministry of Jesus the challenge was very clear, “blessed are the poor..”
There are two versions of the beatitudes, one in Matthew and one in Luke. Christians have long argued over which is at the center of Christ’s teaching, yet that is really not our problem, for both are challenging for us as followers of the way of Jesus.
Matthew puts it this way:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, justice, for they will be filled.
Luke is more concrete than Matthew:
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.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Even as we approach the “least of these my brethren,” as much as we strive for that lofty place of unconditional love, we carry our own human attitudes and judgments into every conversation regarding service through faith. Living the examined life calls us to moments of deeper awareness of our relationship to the poor among us and to even consider our own poverty.
In antiquity, the people who followed Jesus were known as People of the Way, because often they would be the last people to leave plague ridden cities, staying to care for the sick and dying, or to raise up the poor and broken from the sides of the road, or to offer hospitality to the people who lived on the margins of the community. This was how the life and model of Jesus spread through the land, modeling the Way which was different from others around them.
Thomas Merton in A Silent Life states, “from the moment we are born our ego defends its right to be right.” It is this, then, that drives and compels our national attitude about people who are poor and not our divinity, which calls us to live out the Beatitudes in the fullness of grace and the reflection of Christ in the world.