“Blessed are you poor, for the yours is the kingdom of God.”- Luke 6:26
You don’t have to work with the poor to realize that there is nothing blessed about being poor. Most of us invest time and energy trying to escape poverty. Even the poor want to desperately flee poverty. No one in their right mind would say that being poor is a blessed state. Some people like to romanticize poverty. Well, this is an insult for those who live in abject poverty. Jesus was not a romantic. He knew what poverty could do to a person. He did not distance himself from the brutal realities of life. He saw the hopeless desperation of the poor. He reached out and helped those who were destitute like the widow who lost her only son in Luke 7:11-17. Yet, Jesus taught that the poor are blessed.
Many times those who minister to the poor including myself have a ‘top-down’ approach in ministry. We think of ourselves as the ‘haves” and those to whom we minister as the ‘have-nots’. There is nothing wrong with it. We won’t be able to help unless we are better off materially than those who are in abject poverty. Unfortunately, no matter how we approach charitable work even when we arm ourselves with sincere humility and kindness, there is always an inevitable divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. However, if we take the words of Jesus seriously then it should radically change the way we minister to the poor. If the poor are blessed as Jesus says, then they have something to offer to us. However, if we think being blessed in purely material sense, then we won’t understand the meaning of Jesus’ enigmatic words. We need to define blessedness according to the message of the gospel.
Jesus taught that the poor are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is later defined in the apostle’s writing as the New Creation. The Kingdom of God is not a reformation of the Old but a formation of something new. However, we might not be ready for the new if we are happy with the old. We might not be willing to give up the old unless we see it for what it is. Perhaps, true blessedness is knowing and discerning the true state of the old so much so that we desire for the New Creation. The poor are blessed because they are aware of the failure of this present age. Jesus is implying to the chagrin of most religious people that the poor are closer to the kingdom than the rest of us. So, what makes the poor so special that they can see the need for the New clearer than the rest?
Well, we need to look at the poor honestly. The poor in society are usually those who have failed in society. I am not going into the sociological and psychological factors that promote poverty. This is not quite relevant to discover the blessedness of the poor. It is not uncommon for people to speak of the poor with disdain because society considers them as failures. Those who have been able to come out of poverty are most often the very ones who are hostile towards the poor. The reality is that the blessedness of the poor is their failure to be successful in society. Consequently, being successful in society can be a curse. Jesus alludes to this in the gospel when He says, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?(Mark 8:36). Being successful in this world means we know how to navigate in this world. It means that we are comfortable in this world or this age. However, St Paul admonishes us, Be not conformed to this age: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2). Most of us operate quite well in this age and try to work our spirituality around the principles and values of this age. The poor have failed in this age. They are rejected by this age. They are experiencing the brutality of this failure. They are blessed because they are a step closer to understanding that they need the New Creation. Most people are happy with this age if there could be some minor alterations. The Kingdom of God is a not reformation but a transformation. We cannot be transformed if we are not able to let go of this world. The poor don’t have to let go of anything because they have been cast out. Sometimes we think that it is our duty to help the poor to reintegrate. This would be the same helping someone who got past an addiction to discover a new addictive drug. We need to realize that reintegration is not the gospel answer.
“No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Luke 5:37)
When we are called to minister to the poor, it is a call for a transformation. It is not a call to help those who are doomed to failure to be successful in this age. This is the “haves and have-nots” approach to ministry. We are not helping anyone when we do these. It is a call for mutual transformation. It is a call be part of the New Creation. Unless we are willing to be transformed ourselves, we will never understand why the poor are blessed. If we want to be transformed, then we are on the same path as the poor to discover the meaning of the New Creation. Maybe the poor can see clearer why we need a new creation than we do if we are successful in this age.