Bible Studies
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Friday, 20 May 2005

By Jim Jordal

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven. For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets."

Luke 6:20-26 (NKJV)

Luke's rendering of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount differs somewhat from that found in the writings of Matthew. It may be that Jesus delivered the same sermon on several occasions, and each heard it at a different time, or perhaps that these two disciples merely described what they heard differently. In any case, these are authentic, inspired words from Jesus to His disciples, and by implication to all Christians.

Some Bible commentaries interpret Jesus' words as contrasting the humble physical circumstances but great spiritual wealth of His disciples with the ostentatious trappings, but profound spiritual poverty of those Pharisees opposing His message and ministry. This is certainly one valid interpretation of His message. However, if we consider the many Old Testament examples equating wealth with arrogance, and poverty with humility, we see that Jesus' teachings dig deep into elements of both physical poverty and impoverishment of spirit.

Luke presents Christ's message first in four promises of future blessing for those persons who in this life are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, reviled, and exiled from the dominant society. He follows with four prophecies of coming woe for those who in their present life are rich, well fed, joyful, and popular.

In this teaching, and in others of a similar nature, Jesus clearly allies Himself with poor, excluded, oppressed people on the margins of society. He lives with them, interacts socially with them, preaches to them, and promises deliverance to them. His wrath is directed, not against prostitutes and tax collectors, but against those haughty, complacent, merciless persons of means who use their riches and power to further oppress the common people.

So what is it about the poor that Jesus so loved? The apostle James seemed to understand what it was when he wrote "…Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" I think it's really a rather simple proposition: The poor and suffering of society potentially have greater faith than the wealthy and pampered because they often have nothing else. They learn dependence upon God, not in spite of their privation, but because of it. Jesus chose them as heirs of His kingdom because they best typify what followers of the Lord should be.

And what was it about the rich that so often stirred Jesus' ire? Obviously it wasn't their wealth alone. It was the arrogance, pride, complacency, hypocrisy, corruption, and idolatry that often accompanied wealth.

Jesus' Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) exemplifies this morally perverted behavior as the rich man, surfeited with plenty, makes a comment indicating the depth of his depravity and idolatry, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." His thoughts were only for himself and his continuing welfare. He had no thought either for God or for his less fortunate neighbors.

That's the attitude that stirred Jesus to anger.

Jesus' last comparison in this example is between those persons hated, excluded, disdained, and often demonized by society; and those "beautiful people" lauded and virtually deified by their decadent fellows.

The outcasts are promised great rewards in heaven in company with prophets of old who received similar treatment at the hands of the privileged few. Not so the wealthy, arrogant, abusive upper socio-economic group. Their future is now as they receive consolation and pleasure in this life. But in the next life they receive retribution for their arrogant and abusive behavior toward the poor.

So is it impossible in this life to have great (or any) wealth and still please God? Yes, I think it is. But it's difficult because wealth tends to lure our attention and energies away from God. As Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower: The seed, or word of God, falls among thorns when the "cares, riches, and pleasures of life" choke the word of God so that it can bring forth no fruit. But the Master also said that while it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, He also mentioned that with God all things are possible.

If you are blessed with wealth, sanctify it for the Master's use, and be careful that it not substitute for your relationship with Christ. And never, never use whatever wealth you may have to oppress the less fortunate, or to subvert justice for the poor and oppressed. That means don't financially support groups behaving in this manner, and check to see what the corporations you hold stock in are doing with your money.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1978, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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