Poverty is a blight and a road to suffering but Jesus clearly said in Luke 6:20-31 that the poor are also blessed. Unlike the saying in Matthew where Jesus described the poor in spirit, Luke wrote that Jesus also emphasized the poor in fact. So, what are the blessings of the poor? Jesus said they are blessed because the kingdom is theirs. Why? The poor appreciate small blessings, are more environmentally friendly, are more empathetic to suffering, are more generous and more moral, know they need a Savior, depend on God, have no exaggerated sense of self-importance, are less into competition than cooperation, know the difference between necessities and luxuries, learn patience, know how to survive great suffering, know the Gospel is good news and respond to the gospel unafraid of losing anything because they have nothing to lose.
Hunger is a worldwide scourge not caused by lack of food but selfish politics and greed. Jesus strangely said that the hungry are also blessed. What could he have meant? Those who have fasted for a time either due to circumstances or choice know how good the food that breaks that fast tastes. Somehow the cleansing of poisons from our bodies during a fast makes all food taste so much better. The poor may long to eat crumbs from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:19-21) but the rich man may be dying due to poverty of diet, the unhealthy ingredients of a bad western diet, something even the ancients knew (Daniel 1:1-16). But even healthy food only satisfies for a few hours. There is a hunger in every soul that only Jesus can truly satisfy.
There is one blessing in Luke’s summary of the beatitudes that cuts across all classes and circumstances, the blessing of weeping. How can it be a blessing to cry, to mourn out loud? Loss and pain are common to all human beings, rich or poor, famous or unknown, loved or hated. According to some medical experts, crying aloud is not only good physically in that it cleanses the body of certain toxins produced by stress, it also helps us bring negative emotions to the fore so that they can be addressed. Mourning is good it produces a change of heart about bad habits and produces change. Mourning may be all the more genuine and produce longer lasting positive benefits when it is expressed through tears. Such a changed heart is a blessing bringing true joy and laughter.
We all experience being hated at times even if only from an impatient motorist on the road. Even the most famous receive negative reviews and hateful criticism. Those in some jobs, like politicians, experience hatred almost constantly yet there are always people waiting in line to fill their shoes. Is there a secret that the rest of us don’t know? Could there be something in what Jesus said about being blessed when people hate us? In context, Jesus was encouraging people expelled from the Jewish community, because of him. Christianity was once a part of the Jewish religion. Today, Christians are excluded, insulted and rejected as if evil by many people from various situations. Yet, they are in the best of all company, the good company of the ancient prophets and will receive great reward in heaven.
Jesus is not against wealth per se. After all, although he lived in voluntary poverty while on earth, he still is the wealthiest person in the Universe, owning everything there is. So what is it about worldly wealth that caused Jesus to declare woe on the rich? The issue is that wealth is a great temptation to live in selfish and callous comfort. Jesus overcame that temptation when he chose to be born in a stable, but most rich people find it almost impossible to overcome. Wealth tends to harden people’s hearts. Witness is the loud voices of those wealthy who oppose public programs to help the poor or demand budget cuts in welfare programs and yet oppose increases in taxes on the rich. They call it entitlement, but surely selfish entitlement is strongest among the rich.
I once knew a man from rural Ghana who grew up wearing no shoes but never knew even the common cold until he moved to the capital city Accra. Then he moved to the west and began to experience our western diseases. In Europe and America we are well fed, but have diseases not common in many poorer countries, because they cannot afford to pollute their food with all the toxic junk that we do. So, when I read how Jesus said woe to the full I think of our awfully bad but filling western diets. Even with junk food, our full bellies tend to make us forget those who are starving. Those who eat well now may end up empty on judgment day, because of the callous hearts that go along with wealth and full bellies.
Some Christians get the wrong idea about Christianity. They think that it ought to be a life filled with money, good food and laughter. Jesus said just the opposite. He said woe to those who laugh now. What is Jesus, a party pooper? Notice he said laugh “now.” There is a time to laugh, but in the midst of a world where greed is a fashion statement, laughter may not always be appropriate. In fact it can even be from an attitude of not caring about those who are suffering. Being thrilled about the things of this world, fashions, popularity, money and partying can all come from a calloused heart that does not care about the distress of others at our own gates. Jesus warned a lot about the fate of those with hard, uncaring hearts.
We all like a kind word, encouragement and even a little flattery feels good, but it can be a deadly trap. In Luke 6:20-31 Jesus spoke of the woe we face when everyone speaks well of us. Among pastors we often joke that if everyone likes us we must be doing something wrong, and there is a large measure of truth to that. Elijah the prophet was labeled a troublemaker by his nation’s leader Ahab. He was not very popular. More popular was a pagan god called Ba’al (1 Kings 18), the principal god of a place or “lord”. So eventually there was a confrontation between a lonely Elijah and 450 priests of Ba’al. Which was more important, being flattered and popular or being right? In the great judgment day only one reputation will matter, being popular with God.