EDITORIAL: The blessed poor

By NEMS Daily Journal

Just as one cannot imagine Judaism without the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, one cannot imagine Christianity without Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
In this monologue, Jesus repeatedly turned on its head the conventional wisdom.
“You have heard it was said … but I tell you … ,” he said over and over, compelling the people before him to love their enemies, to avoid murder and adultery of the heart, to extend forgiveness as eagerly as they sought it. Matthew writes that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”
Two millennia later, Jesus’ words and authority still perplex and compel. Even the very first words of the sermon are a salvo over most of us who live in 21st-Century America: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Luke records it more succinctly: “Blessed are you who are poor … .”
Those holding this newspaper in their hands live in the richest nation in history, not far removed from its richest time. Even in the midst of recession, all but the few truly destitute among us are wealthy by comparison to most people of other times and other places.
We may argue that poverty can stem from all manner of individual, family and community failures – and we would no doubt be partly right. Jesus surely wasn’t unaware of this, though, when he called the poor “blessed.”
So what are the characteristics of the poor that Jesus would have us share?
Maybe it’s that they tend to be humble. When one has little that this world values, one is not under the delusion that worth comes from possessions or abilities but clings to the worthiness of “merely” being human – being made in God’s image.
The poor can be generous. Seeing clearly the needs of others, they may be more willing than those of us who have much to invite a stranger to supper, to take in a neighbor who’s lost his home or, if they can do nothing more, to give time to listen.
Poor people tend to be thankful. Those who feel hunger don’t take food for granted; those who have been homeless know the value of having a place to call “home.”
One of the ironies of our society is that poor people are far more likely to be victims of crime than rich people. Even that, though, gives the poor a leg up in eternal matters: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).
Maybe one perspective we can learn from the present economic downturn is that treasures in heaven are, after all, the only lasting investment.