“Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’”
(Luke 6:20-21, NRSV)
I briefly studied economics in college—very briefly! As a matter of fact, I only took one course in economics. That was all the economics I needed to know that God must have some other career in mind for me. It was shortly after that course (along with an accounting course) that I discerned God’s call into ministry. Yet, even with my limited understanding of economics, the words of Jesus in the scripture above make no sense to me. I think other people who excelled in economics would probably agree with me as well. There is nothing blessed about being poor.
I am familiar with the sentimentalizing that we do over the simple lives of the poor. But I know it is only sentimentalizing because I have yet to meet someone who was poor, then rich, and then who was poor again who feels like they hit the jackpot. Poverty is to be avoided, for a life of poverty is a life of powerlessness. Wealth provides access to power, control, and influence. We see this played out in the criminal justice system—the poor with their over-worked, underpaid, overwhelmed public defenders fare much worse than the wealthy with their staff of defense attorneys who seem to know the right combination to unlock doors that are often closed off to the poor. I’m not knocking the latter; I only wish the poor had similar representation.
So how do we make sense of Jesus’ words? In the economy of the world, the more money you have, the more opportunity you have. If you are poor, you experience fewer opportunities for advancement. In the economy of God, both the poor and the wealthy have equal access to the benefits of the kingdom of God. The danger for those who desire to enter the kingdom of God is that they may mistakenly assume the principles that work in the marketplace economy will work in the economy of God. They don’t. The poor and the rich come into the kingdom of God in the same way—by humbling themselves, confessing their sins, and putting their full trust in the grace of God. No amount of lawyering up to prove our innocence is enough to get us into the kingdom of God. It’s only by God’s grace. Now that’s justice!