Tag Archives: poor

The Beatitudes, part 12: Luke’s Curses

Read Luke 6:24-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. (Matthew 7:13 NRSV)

theoldruggedcrossWe all have an idealistic image of Jesus in our heads, do we not? Growing up, we who grew up in the church learned about a Jesus who loves us, who welcomes us, who loves all the little children, and who came to save the world from hate and evil. We learned of a cheery, jovial man who was no ordinary human, but the Son of God; what’s more, Jesus was God in the flesh. We also learned how sinful people rejected Jesus’ message of love and crucified him to a cross, following extensive torture, and left him there to die. Of course the story doesn’t end there, as Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven after appearing to his many disciples.

This just about summarizes our Sunday School/Church understanding of Jesus. It just about sums up every movie that has been created about him, and it sums up what I believe to be wholly an American Jesus who gives us eternity but asks nothing of us in return. This, in essence, is a cheap Jesus who presents to a us a cheap grace.

Don’t get me wrong, the summary is true in that Jesus does love us, welcome us and calls us to follow him. It is true that Jesus came to save us and that people rejected his message of love. But the reason people rejected his message of love, is because it often did not feel so loving. I guess one could say that Jesus’ love was often tough, challenging, and sometimes downright impossible for people to subscribe to.

In Luke’s account of the beatitudes, we get a picture perfect example of Jesus’ tough love. Following the blessings he pronounces on the poor, Jesus hauls off on the rich, cursing them to a series of four “woes” or afflictions. He does this to drive home the message of the four beatitudes, that God stands in solidarity with the poor and will show them partiality when these eschatological (judgment day) blessings take place.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26 NRSV). Yikes! Remember, Jesus is not speaking this to strangers, nor to his enemies; rather, Jesus is speaking this directly to his disciples!!

No doubt, there were disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; 18:28); however, there were also those who had not given up everything. Jesus’ teaching of God’s blessing on the impoverished, as well as his teaching of God’s judgment upon the rich, was meant to be a warning that God’s Kingdom is the ONLY thing we should be seeking to attain. Jesus is also clear elsewhere that one cannot serve two masters, that one will either serve God or they will serve materialistic gain (Luke 16:13 NRSV).

Again, if there was a way to soften this message and remain true to what Jesus is teaching here, I would; however, softening it only serves to add more sugar coating to the idol we continue to build up and name Jesus. Jesus’ message, as hard as it was in his time for people to hear, is really hard for us to hear. A majority of us in America claim to believe in God, and a majority of those who do claim to be Christian in one form or another; however, how many of us Christians really put God/Jesus first and foremost in our lives, foresaking all else in the process? That’s a tall order and most of us, myself included, fall very short of that!

Thank God that Luke’s Gospel doesn’t have the final say on what Jesus taught and/or meant by his teachings; however, we should NOT shrug it off as being irrelevant either. Luke’s Gospel gives us the bitter truth, as hard as it is to swallow, that we are not always aligned with God. What’s more, woe to us who think we are only to find out we never were (Matthew 7:13, 23; Luke 16:19-31 NRSV).

Luke rightfully has us pause and reflect on where we are in our relationship with God, a humility we should be daily embracing. Rather than viewing these woes as personal attacks against our faith, our lifestyles, and/or our wealth, we should be humbled by them and view them as true blessings in our lives. Why, you ask? Because they point us to the way, the truth, and the life and serve as a guide to keep us on the long and narrow road that leads to the Kingdom of God. Christ is teaching us of what our priorities should be, that they should be aligning with the priorities of God. If we heed that warning, we will be the “richer” for it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace…what has cost God so much cannot be cheap for us.” – Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

PRAYER
Lord, fill me with humility so that I may see how I need to change in order to truly follow you. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 5: Hungry

Read Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” (Isaiah 58:10 NLT)

mother-teresa-feedingOne of the brilliant things that Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes brings to the table is that it provides us with a deeper and more profound understanding of the heart of Christ’s teachings. It is widely believed by scholars that the four Gospels drew the words and teachings of Jesus from the hypothetical “Q” source. It is nicknamed “Q” because it comes from the German word “Quelle”, which literally means “source.” I say that this source is “hypothetical” because there is no archaelogial proof or record of  it, however, Matthew and Luke seem to have been utilizing the same source material (both “Q” and the Gospel of Mark) for their Gospels. What’s more, they were doing so independent of one another, as each of the four Gospels were written in different places and times.

Many scholars believee that Luke’s account of what Jesus said in Luke 6:21a, is a direct quote of “Q”, as it presents the most simplified version of the Beatitude. The reasoning behind this is that typically, when humans change things, they do so by adding to something. In Luke 6:21a, Jesus says, “God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied”; however, in Matthew 5:6, Jesus is quoted as saying, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,  for they will be satisfied.” It seems, on the surface anyhow, that while both are utilizing the same source for the quote, Matthew added to the quote in a way that Luke opted not to.

Of course, this is all educated speculation and it may or may not be the way it worked out in the writing and development of the Gospels; yet, it has led some to speculate that Matthew was “spiritualizing “Q” and, therefore, altering what Jesus was actually saying. I think that this is a grave mistake and has led some people to trivialize what Matthew’s account is undertaking. In Luke, Jesus’ beatitude blesses the physically famished. Period. “God blesses those who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied.”

In doing so, Luke’s Jesus is calling attention to the eschatological (aka “end of the age”) promise of God to right the wrongs of those who are poor, of those who are sorrowful, and of those who are hungry. It operates under the belief that God is working to bring justice into the world and, when that time comes, the world order as it exists today will cease to exist.

Matthew is ABSOLUTELY NOT in disagreement with Luke, and let’s not forget that Matthew wrote his Gospel prior to and separately from Luke. What’s remarkable here, in both independent accounts, is that we have what we can reasonably determine is an actual teaching of Jesus. The Gospels, despite differences in the accounts (which is a natural occurance when two different people are independently writing about the same person), truly do corroborate each other and convey the teachings of our Lord.

Matthew was not in disagreement with Luke, nor was Matthew “spiritualizing” the teaching found in “Q”. What Matthew’s Jesus is saying is that not only is Jesus calling attention to the eschatological promise of God in the Kingdom to come, but that God’s is actively working to bring that reality in the world as we speak. How, you ask? Because not only are people literally hungering and thirsting for food and drink, but people are hungering and thirsting for justice (also translated as righteousness) to be done. What’s more, it is not just the poor who hunger and thirst for such things; rather, all who truly follow Christ (and God) hunger and thirst for justice.

If one hungers and thirsts for something, they do not just it idly by and wait for some delivery truck to bring what they need. Instead, they actively seek what they need out. In other words, those who hunger and thirst for justice are actively seeking to do works of justice in the world around them. This is what Christ calls his disciples to do and this, in Matthew’s account, is the wisdom Jesus is imparting to his disciples and to those who are wishing to follow him. “Blessed are you who actively work to bring God’s justice into this injust world, for you will be satisfied in what you do and your work will not be in vain, neither now nor when God’s justice one day reigns supreme in the Kingdom to come. So the question for you to reflect on is this, are you bringing Jesus’ beatitude to life and, if not, are you willing to say, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!”?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” – Mother Teresa
PRAYER
Lord, I hunger and thirst for justice. Use me to be a blessing for those in need of it. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 2: Poor in Spirit

Read Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon Me, for the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” (Isaiah 61:1 NLT)

wealth-gapIn the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus, with his disciples gathered around him, stood up before a crowd of people and began to teach them. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” he began, projecting his voice for the multitude to hear, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The crowd was in shock as Jesus uttered these words and, no doubt, the sounds of gasps and whispers could be heard moving from mouths to ears throughout the crowd.

It’s not that the crowd was unaware that God takes the side of the poor. Surely, there is Scripture throughout the Old Testament that shows God favoring the poor. In Isaiah 61:1, the prophet writes that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him in order that he might bring the good news of God’s favor to the poor. Also, the wise, sagely, author of Proverbs wrote that God’s justice will fall swift and hard on anyone who tries to take advantage of the poor, for God is their defender (Proverbs 22:22-23).

What was most shocking to the crowd was that Jesus proclaimed, with authority, that God was not merely the defender of the poor, which ultimately defends the status quo; rather, God is their liberator. It’s one thing for God to “defend the poor” against people who try to “take advantage” of them, but it is something entirely different for them to be the heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, as this suggests that God rejects the place the poor have been put in, despite the fact that the world wishes to keep them in that place. This puts the world at odds with God.

Some have mistakenly taken Matthew’s use of the phrase “poor in spirit” to be a “spiritualization” of Jesus’ proclamation of blessing upon the literal poor found in Luke. However, phrase “poor in spirit” does not exclude literal poverty from the equation; rather, it shifts the emphasis to what it means to be the people of God. What Jesus is doing is pointing to a quality within the poor that sets them a part from the rich and, in Matthew, Jesus uses the phrase similarly to how it was used in the War Scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll, written about 80 or so years prior to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, utilizes the phrase “poor in spirit” (1 QM 14:7) to denote God’s true people in contrast to the rich and powerful heirarchy of Jerusalem.

The poor, therefore, are people who are not in a position to be proud and independent. By virtue of their poverty, they are humble and their spirit has been crushed. They have to daily rely on their faith and hope in God’s promise to bring them justice and liberation from their plight. It is such people who, in their humility, recognize their need for God, while the rich and proud look to their own power, status and capabilities to attain what they believe they need. Jesus’ use of the phrase “the poor in spirit” both points us to God’s solidarity with the impoverished and to the kind of spirit they possess as a result of their poverty.

If we wish to inherit God’s Kingdom, we need to stand in solidarity with our Lord, who stands in solidarity with the poor. The only way to do so is to let go of our pride, to stop seeing ourselves as being “independent” and above those who are not, and begin to embody a spirit of humility. It is in such humility that we will recognize our need for God, and it is in such humility that we will trust our Lord enough to follow him. While the world scoffs and criticizes the poor, while the world mocks their need for help and assistance, the challenge for us is to embrace the poor, as well as their humble spirit. In doing so we will certainly be embracing our lowly Lord himself.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest. “ – Nelson Mandela
PRAYER
Lord, empty me of my pride and fill me with humility so that I may be counted among the poor in spirit. Amen.

A New Year’s Resolution

Read Luke 16:19-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And He will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me.’” (Matthew 25:45)

homelessWhat does it mean to elite? The word, no doubt, has many different meanings for each of us. As a football fan, I think of elite in terms of superior skill and athleticism. I remember when NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning was being asked if he thought he were an “elite” quarterback. In that sense, the question was asking him if he thought his skills were at a level that was above most quarterbacks in the league. But being elite does not just refer to success; rather, it also means being among the extremely privileged. It means being a part of a select group of people who are superior in ability and/or qualities, such as success, status, skill, wealth, and other such things.

There is nothing wrong with being elite in the most basic sense of the word. There is nothing wrong with being the best at something, or being the most skilled, or giving the best performance, etc. There is nothing wrong with being gifted in a way that sets one apart from others; however, what tends to happen is that such “elite” people tend to get treated better than others because they are viewed as being elite. What’s more, a system gets put in place by the elite in order for them to maintain the status they feel entitled to. Because the elite see themselves as being superior in one way or the other from those who are not considered elite, the elite begin to see themselves superior in all respects and they do whatever it takes to keep their status and their privilege in place.

It is in this system of power and status that we find the rise of elitism. When I went to India in 2010, there was plenty of elitism to see. Flying in to the airport in Bangalore, it was hard at first to even see the difference between that and Liberty International Airport. Bangalore is practically the tech capital of the world and some of the wealthiest people in India live there. Yet, stepping foot out of that airport and into the city streets, one could see the vast disparity between the haves and the have-nots. In fact, the further away from the cities one got in India, the more clear that disparity became. It would be easy for me to merely bring up India, and the still prevalent caste system, as an example; however, that would only serve to make us think that we are off of the proverbial hook, when in reality we are not.

Elitism exists in our Western society as well. It exists in our government, in Hollywood, in media, and in businesses. It exists in our educational system, where the elite in our society go to the best private schools, the semi-elite go to the better public schools, and the rest go to what’s left over. It exists in our medical system, in our hospitals, in our doctor’s offices, in our retirement communities, and other places. Those who have the money get the best and most quality care, while everyone else is relegated to clinics and/or whatever the government might provide. It exists in our towns and communities, where people in need are often told to “go elsewhere” so that those who have plenty can feel comfortable living in their communities and shopping at their local stores.

As the New Year commences, I want to challenge everyone who reads this devotional to reflect on the elitism that we are apart of and/or the elitism we have fallen victim to. Are we operating our lives, schools, businesses, health care facilities, communities, and governments in a way that is modeled on the “Economy of Heaven”, as seen in our suggested Scripture readings today, or are we modeled after the “Economy of this World.” I am not challening us in order to lay blame, point the finger, or stir the pot. I am writing this because I have been asking myself this question and know that God is calling us all to. The challenge for us is to assess how we, as children of God, can better live into God’s call to usher in Heaven on Earth. What can we do to help God’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-7) become a reality? How do we join God in making all things new again? Perhaps, like me, you have been wondering this too? Regardless, I hope that you accept the challenge and start working toward the personal and communal changes needed to make that happen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16, NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to honestly assess myself so that I may make the changes necessary in order to live up to your Word of justice, mercy, compassion and equality. Holy God, may your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

The Prophet’s Call

Read Amos 5:11-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God.” (Proverbs 14:31 CEB)

US-Pope-Francis-Congress.JPTwo weeks ago, America was tuned into the 24 hour news cycle. It wasn’t because of some nefarious criminal, or some horrendous crime. It wasn’t because some celebrity was getting married or that some other celebrity was getting divorced. There were no major scandals, and for the first time in I am not sure how long, the news wasn’t very negative at all. Why was this? Because Pope Francis I was visiting the United States of America for the very first time. He started off in Washington D.C., headed from there to New York City, and finally ended up in Philadelphia. The news, and the country, could not get enough of it!

With that said, not ALL of the news was positive. All of the commentators seemed happy that the Pope was here and they were praising him and his papacy; however, with that said, some commentators objected to some of Pope Francis’s stances. Some disagreed with his stance on climate change, while others disagreed with his stance on capital punishment. Some were astounded that the Pope would come to the U.S.A and talk about the injustice found within the golden calf we call capitalism. Some were upset he interjected in our ongoing immigration debate.

“With all due respect to the Holy Father,” I heard one commentator state, “he really should stick with things of a religious nature and leave the politics to the politicians. He’s the head of the church, and while at the Vatican he is also the head of state, America is not a theocracy and he is out of his league speaking in politics here.” Some commentators opined that the Pope didn’t understand capitalism in American and that he only knew capitalism to be as it was in his country of Argentina: crony capitalism (as if that doesn’t exist here too).

Hearing all of the debates going back and forth made me question, was the Pope out of line for speaking out politically against things he felt were wrong, unjust and in need of change? Should a religious and/or spiritual leader simply keep to “religious” things and leave politics to the politicians? Of course the answer is both yes…and NO! Let me address “yes” first. If a religious leader is putting themselves out into the political sphere to garner political points or to receive political gain, then obviously that religious leader is acting inappropriately. If the religious leader is pushing an inherently political agenda for the purpose of getting a specific person elected, or to push his/her congregation to endorse a specific candidate, I will concede that the religious leader is in the wrong.

Yet, I object the claim that religious leaders should stick to religion and leave the politics to the politicians, because that inherently disregards what religion is and it denies the very station that religious leaders and prophets (Jesus included) have taken in society. You cannot divorce religion from politics, just because a religious leader’s message is inconvenient to one’s agenda. The fact is, if a society is acting unjustly, then it is the religious leaders duty to speak out against that injustice. That isn’t political…IT’S RELIGIOUS.

Religion literally means to reconnect or rejoin together. It is the reconnecting of our relationship with God and with our neighbors. It’s all about relationships. Therefore, if a society is in moral decline and/or if there is injustice and oppression within it, then it is counteracting the call of the Spirit to be in right relationship with God and neighbor. It is also hindering others from doing the same. It is a religious person’s duty, it is their obligation to speak out on those subjects no matter how inconvenient those truths might be. That can be done without naming people, without any hidden agenda and certainly without bashing or endorsing candidates; however, the faithful are called to stand up against oppression and injustice. As I see it, Pope Francis is leading the way. Don’t scoff, but join him in ending injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos, Jewish prophet (circa 750’s BC)

PRAYER
Lord, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Strengthen me to speak your words of truth to the power. Amen.