I recall the patched together home of a mom and her two sons in a campamento in Chile. Dirt floors. Salvaged wood walls. Corrugated tin roof. Tattered sheets hung to create “rooms.”
We had been invited to visit because one of her sons was brilliant and in dire need of financial assistance to go to school. His abilities could rescue his family from poverty, but he had no capacity to get the training. This was entrapped, unjust poverty. The family confessed a lived powerlessness.
The Poor Have An Advantage
Jesus begins his training of his disciples in Matthew with these curious words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Those called by the Son of God to follow him (Matthew 4:19) were to possess what is of greatest worth – the kingdom of heaven – through a settled condition of poverty. And, they were to be happy about it (“blessed” in the original Greek means happy or enviable)!
Spiritually growing disciples are discovered below the poverty line. Our modern, millennial western ears hear “poverty” in primarily economic tones, and there is some value in this.
Luke’s version of the same words Matthew records are more personal, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). The position and powerlessness of poverty are not to be envied or allowed to continue; yet being “poor” seems crucial for discovering true riches. Combined, the two biblical writers underline a foundational point: the poor have an advantage, and the advantaged are poor. The Scriptures force us to wrestle with this truth at both a spiritual and social level. Disciples of Jesus must wrestle with the tension and overlap of the spiritual and material, of heaven and earth.
The position and powerlessness of poverty are not to be envied or allowed to continue; yet being “poor” seems crucial for discovering true riches.
There is nothing holy in material poverty, but material riches are a bait and switch – you can gain the whole world and lose your soul (Matthew 16:26). There is no buying, earning or hedge-funding your way into a position of royalty in God’s kingdom, but it does seem riches can get you into Satan’s dominion (Luke 16:19-31). The kingdom belongs to the poor and the poor in spirit. These are the two sides of the coin in the currency of the kingdom of heaven. In God’s economy, the awareness of need and want are where it all begins.
There is no buying, earning or hedge-funding your way into a position of royalty in God’s kingdom, but it does seem riches can get you into Satan’s dominion.
The Path To True Riches
The old, old preacher, John Chrysostom (c.347-407), cried, “The greatest of evils, and those which make havoc of the whole world, had their entering in from pride.” Pride is the opposite of poverty of spirit. Pride is the great and bitter root of sin. Pride destroys and wreaks havoc. Pride earns, gathers and parades its accomplishments. Pride never confesses powerlessness.
This is the beautiful paradox Jesus is describing to his followers. A lowliness, a below-the poverty-line life that possesses everything and empowers for a positional life in a world where pride runs wild.
Visiting that Chilean family reoriented me. The smell and experience of poverty will do that to the privileged, but only to the extent that it awakens awareness of our own poverty. But, spiritual poverty is the common ground of rich and poor; it’s just that the materially poor seem to arrive there first.
Slow down and consider. Where is this tension of below-the-poverty-line life true? What do you believe are true riches? What does an audit of your spirit reveal? Do you possess the kingdom Jesus says you can, or has pride duped you to laying claim to an inferior standing?
Slow down and do some spiritual accounting. Then, do some sacrificing with King David – who possessed a great earthly kingdom:
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
This, wealthy David knew, is the path to true riches in the everlasting kingdom.