Fortunate are those who have the spirit of the poor.
Matthew 5: 3
Fortunate are you who are poor.
Luke 6: 20
All members of the church are called to live in evangelical poverty,
but not all in the same way…
Medellin, Poverty, ¶ 6
The first beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel, most often translated as “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is difficult for us who are first world Christians. We want to reduce it to spiritual poverty, a mere detachment from goods, which lets us hold on to our wealth and privilege in a world of massive poverty.
The first beatitude in Luke’s Gospel is much more challenging and upsetting, even in the usual translation. It truly turns the world upside down.
Blessed are you who are poor…
The best commentary I know of is from the document on Poverty from the Latin American bishops conference meeting at Medellin in 1968.
In paragraph 4 the bishops distinguish three understandings of poverty:
a) Poverty, as a lack of the goods of this world necessary to live worthily as humans, is in itself evil. The prophets denounce it as contrary to the will of the Lord and most of the time as the fruit of the injustice and sin of humans.
b) Spiritual poverty is the theme of the poor of Yahweh. Spiritual poverty is the attitude of opening up to God, the ready disposition of one who hopes for everything from the Lord. Although one values the goods of this world, one does not become attached to them and recognizes the higher value of the riches of the Kingdom.
c) Poverty as a commitment, through which one assumes voluntarily and lovingly the conditions of the needy of this world in order to bear witness to the evil which it represents and to spiritual liberty in the face of material goods, follows the example of Christ who took to himself all the consequences of humanity’s sinful condition and who “being rich became poor” in order to redeem us.
In the following paragraph the bishops suggest what “a poor church” does:
–Denounces the unjust lack of this world’s goods and the sin that begets it;
–Preaches and lives in spiritual poverty, as an attitude of spiritual childhood and openness to the Lord;
–Is herself bound to material poverty. The poverty of the church is, in effect, a constant factor in the history of salvation.
If we would try to live this, I think we would be a better church and the world would be a bit better.
And we would be living the solidarity that Paul speaks of in today’s first reading from 2 Corinthian 1: 1-7, a sharing of both comforts and afflictions.
And so I pray, as Paul does,
Our hope for you is firm,
for we know that as you share in our sufferings,
you may also share in the consolation.
May we strive to be a poor church, a church for the poor, and a church of the poor.