Blessed Are The Poor?

As I was reading Luke 6:20, I came upon this verse once again that states, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This is a perplexing scripture for many. When I think of the blessing of poverty I think, “I don’t want that blessing very much!”

As an urban missionary who works regularly with the homeless in New York City, I see much of the curse of poverty: homeless families who had to celebrate Christmas while living in a shelter. No work and no security. This photo is a picture of me with a family in exactly that situation: Louis, his wife Genesis and their son A.J. It broke my heart to see this young family struggling to make it.

How are they blessed to be poor? As the chapter goes on it says,

“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

As Jesus speaks these radical, unorthodox words I believe that those listening were amazed because as they looked into Jesus’ eyes they saw the meaning: God had not forgotten them, he was in love with them, his favor was upon them. Unlike the culture surrounding them that looked down at them and disdained them, God saw them as precious. Jesus demolished the class system that honored the rich and despised the poor. Jesus was declaring that God had not forgotten them. He had plans to give them the best he had- his kingdom, his satisfaction, and his pure joy. Let me give you an example.

One day recently I was in the Bronx, one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, serving on The Relief Bus. It was a freezing cold day. Even the pigeons were getting aggressive that day on the street. Out of desperate hunger they were flying right up to our tables on the sidewalk to snatch the bread that people were eating.

Along came a special needs kid, eleven-years-old, named Eliza. Her family is homeless and for some reason she wasn’t attending school that day. She begged her mother to allow her to volunteer on the bus and she agreed. Eliza shouted out with joy to every hungry person with a huge smile plastered on her face, offering everyone a cup of hot chocolate. I have truly never seen a more enthusiastic volunteer. The two ladies in the picture came to volunteer from the Walter Hoving Home. They are there as part of a Christian rehabilitation/discipleship program. They know what the challenges of poverty and addiction are all about firsthand. Every month ladies from this program drive an hour and a half to come serve in the cold with us and they LOVE it! Financially, I can imagine that they don’t have much right now, however the treasure they bring in their souls is palatable. They smile, laugh and serve with zeal.

If Eliza and these ladies aren’t blessed, then I don’t know what blessed is! What I see in them is what I want most- more of Jesus.

They are entering that blessing as they live out verse 35, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Jesus give lots of warnings on how dangerous it is to be wealthy and what trouble it can get you into, pulling your heart away from what is important. Without the shackles of wealth, these people are free to focus on other, more lasting treasure as they embody verse 38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I was taught in church as a child that this verse meant I should give more money to the church so that I could then get more money and stuff for myself. It makes me laugh to think about that now as I read this in context! Jesus is trying to free us from that kind of thinking by engaging us in his kingdom. He longs to bless us with his heart, his compassion, his mercy, his freedom and joy. What price can you put on these things? The poor are not blessed because they are poor, but they are blessed because God loves them completely and unconditionally. That is a blessing available to us all. Let us dive in together, throwing ourselves headlong into this amazing, undeserved favor.

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