If you have any knowledge of the Beatitudes, you probably know them from Matthew’s Gospel rather than Luke’s. The writers differ not only in the number of Beatitudes recorded, but in style and meaning. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jesus’ words about the poor. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the reign of heaven.” According to Matthew, Jesus words are directed to the humble and devout who seek God. “But this is the person I notice: the one who is poor and contrite in spirit” (Isaiah 66:2).
The same Beatitude found in Luke reads: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the reign of God.” Jesus may be including the poor in spirit, but it seems a more specific condition is implied here. The poverty of which Jesus speaks includes not merely a condition of the heart but a condition of material deprivation. Jesus’ audience was made up of mostly peasants and rural folks living under Roman domination. Life was hard. Scarcity ruled the day. Oppression was real. They had no access to systems of power. They did’t count, and that’s about as poor as one can get. It is the poor, Jesus reminds his audience and us, who touch the heart of God.
Nicaragua is the one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. The Reverend Doug Orbaker, who directs a non-profit called CEPAD (Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua), opened my eyes to a dimension of poverty when he led the orientation for our small group from East Lansing. He reminded us that the country of Nicaragua didn’t get poor all by itself; it got that way because of selfish leaders (some backed by the U.S. government) and by multi-national corporations whose interests begin and end with extracting the country’s natural resources for other nations’ gain.
Nearly one in five people on the planet lives on less than $1 a day. If the Beatitudes are any guide, who’s most apt to end up with God’s blessing? The top 1% of the world’s richest people have a combined wealth of approximately 60% of the world’s population. If the Beatitudes are any indication, who’s closest to God’s heart? 400 American billionaires control as much wealth as 150 million American citizens. If the Beatitudes of Jesus are worth believing, who’s more likely to find God’s favor?
“Blessed is the Nicaraguan woman hanging her laundry, she is at the place where God’s heart beats.”