Why Does Jesus Say the Poor Are Blessed?

June 17, 2024

Many of us are familiar with the Beatitude in Matthew 5:3 which says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” One common interpretation is that we are blessed if we recognize our own poverty, perhaps caused by idolatry of money, self-centeredness, or spiritual weakness, and then when turn to God, we will find the Kingdom of God.

Luke records this Beatitude with a small difference, but it changes the meaning entirely. In Luke 6:20 we read, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Those in the middle class do not find this speaks to them, and so they usually read Matthew’s version. I would imagine those who are struggling in poverty don’t feel very blessed about their status or want to wait until the Kingdom comes to be satisfied. Further, there is nothing glorious about poverty, and the Bible calls faithful disciples to fight it with all the strength they can muster.

So, what is so blessed about the poor? First, we must remember the audience to whom Jesus preached these words. It would come as Good News to the thousands of poor people who had been told all their lives, that, since they were poor, God had cursed them. They commonly believed that riches were a sign of God’s blessings, as is too often believed today. The priests threatened to deny them salvation if they couldn’t afford to buy sacrificial animals. But Jesus offers the poor hope for salvation.

We must remember it is not poverty that brings salvation. It is the attitude about life and God’s place in life that brings the promise of the Kingdom of God. Let me illustrate by introducing John Doe, the average middle-class person. John always wishes for more money, but still always has enough to put food on the table, a roof over his head, and clothes on his back. There is always enough money for the necessities, plus a little bit for luxuries.

Because of this, John is not always sure why he needs God. His needs are met, his belly is full, and he is not really expecting the Kingdom of God, or anything else, to come and disrupt his life. And though he may not say it, he really doesn’t think he needs God. He can take care of himself pretty well. If John is lucky, he will be happy with this situation until God calls him to the next life. But usually people like John find this situation will work for a time. Then something dramatic happens in their lives, and they find that a life that doesn’t need God will prove to be spiritually empty, and lead to despair and meaninglessness when life gets really hard and becomes unfair.

And herein lies the answer to what Jesus saw was so blessed about the poor. The poor not only need God, as all of us do. They know they need God. They don’t know if there will be food today, so they look to God to help feed them. They may lose their home to the creditors or eviction, and so must trust God to shelter them. Their fight for survival can surely lead them to doubt God, as comfort can lead others to disregard God. But when the poor find victory in life, God’s hand in the victory is usually obvious to them.

On a mission trip to Mexico I got a chance to worship with the people I had helped all week. We were warned that the service could last a long time, much longer than an hour. Horror of horrors, worship God for more than an hour a week!!! Worship that Sunday lasted about three hours. What I witnessed made Luke’s version of the Beatitude come to life. The people were full of such joy because God had blessed them and their family with enough food, shelter, and clothing for another week. They praised God for everything and were thankful to God to the depth of their souls. The service wasn’t overly interesting to me, but the attitude and joy of these wonderful believers who had so little was inspiring, and moved me to want to learn to be more thankful.

How aware of your dependence on God are you? When was the last time you thanked God for all the riches and blessings you have received in life? Do you think it is God who showers all the necessities and luxuries upon you, or are they all benefits you have earned thanks to your own wisdom, insight, and keen business sense? When was the last time you did something to help someone that was poor?