Read­ing Time: 7 minutes

The blessed ones who pos­sess the King­dom are they who have repu­di­ated every extern­al thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of pos­sess­ing. These are the poor in spir­it” (A. W. Tozer).

The First Beatitude (Matt 5:3)
Some sus­tain that the first and third beatitudes refer to the poor, but we shall treat them sep­ar­ately. This beatitude is also found in Luke 6:20. But there is a dif­fer­ence. While Mat­thew says blessed are the poor in spir­it, Luke simply says blessed are the poor, omit­ting “in the spir­it.” Why? Let us look at the two pas­sages (texts).

Mat­thew: “Blessed are the poor in spir­it, for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en” (Matt 5:3). That is, blessed or happy are those who are poor in the spir­it, for the king­dom of heav­en belongs to them.

Luke: “And Jesus lif­ted up his eyes on his dis­ciples, and said: Blessed are you poor, for yours is the king­dom of God” (Luke 6:20). That is, blessed or happy are those of you that are my dis­ciples and who are (mater­i­ally) poor, for the king­dom of God belongs to you. By spe­cify­ing that Jesus lif­ted his eyes on the dis­ciples, Luke under­lines an import­ant aspect: that Jesus wanted his dis­ciples to listen attent­ively because what he is about telling them needs ser­i­ous com­mit­ment and undi­vided atten­tion. This is the kind of atten­tion and com­mit­ment that are required of us, whenev­er we are read­ing or listen­ing to the word of God. Every form of dis­trac­tion should be avoided even when we pray, for in pray­ing, we equally make use of the word of God.

The expres­sions ‘the poor in spir­it’ and ‘the poor’ may be mat­ter of lin­guist­ic dif­fer­ence. How­ever, each con­veys some les­son. For instance, extern­ally, one might be poor or look poor, but very arrog­ant or rich in the spir­it. There­fore, by say­ing poor in the spir­it, Mat­thew means the king­dom of God is a mat­ter of the heart not of the body or phys­ic­al appear­ance. On the oth­er hand, by omit­ting in the spir­it, Luke may have dis­tin­guished his com­munity from that of Mat­thew. Mater­i­ally, Matthew’s com­munity was rich, and so, he needed to emphas­ize spir­itu­al poverty, that is, not allow­ing one’s mater­i­al wealth to block his or her rela­tion­ship with God. Con­trar­ily, Luke’s com­munity was mater­i­ally poor, hence, there was no need emphas­iz­ing in the spir­it. How­ever, both Matthew’s poor in the spir­it and Luke’s only poor have the same mean­ing. The poor in spir­it and the poor refer to those who recog­nize their depend­ence on God. They are those who trust God. Only the humble can pos­sess such atti­tude. Humil­ity con­cerns the heart. This is why some say that the first and third beatitudes refer to the poor. In our con­text, the poor are those who acknow­ledge they need God’s bless­ing and assist­ance in all their activ­it­ies in this world. They are blessed or happy not because the king­dom of God will be theirs, but because they already pos­sess it, it is theirs hic et nunc (here and now) and theirs it will remain. In Luke 17:21, Jesus informed the Phar­isees that the king­dom of God is already in their midst. They could not recog­nize it because they excluded themselves.

Who are the Poor?
When the Bible says the poor, who and who are being referred to? In our Nigeri­an soci­ety, when we say that a per­son is poor, what do we mean? In the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment, the poor referred to the pious poor who looked unto God and depended on Him for sur­viv­al. Prob­ably, it is because of the adject­ive ‘pious’ attached to the poor that makes Mat­thew say poor in the spir­it. In the Bible and in the Second Temple lit­er­at­ure, the noun ‘poor’ refers not only to those lack­ing mater­i­al wealth, but also to wid­ows, orphans, the power­less, the oppressed, and the needy mem­bers of soci­ety. Like the poor, wid­ows and orphans (cf. Isa 10:2) are among those to whom God gives vic­tory over the power­ful (cf. Isa 61:6). These poor, meek, and power­less indi­vidu­als of the beatitude are under the spe­cial care and pro­tec­tion of God. In this beatitude, the poor may be Israel oppressed by a for­eign empire (cf. Ps Sol 5:2; 10:6), or a com­munity with­in Israel oppressed by the Jew­ish author­it­ies. Today, the poor can as well be any body, per­son or per­sons, group or com­munity under oppres­sion. The ref­er­ence to the poor in this beatitude opposes the stand­ard Wis­dom pos­i­tion that the rich are blessed and the poor wretched (cf. Prov 10:15). That a per­son is a wid­ow, an orphan or lacks mater­i­al goods is not enough reas­on to describe such per­son as wretched. Con­trar­ily, that a per­son is mater­i­ally rich does not auto­mat­ic­ally make such per­son blessed. This was the clas­si­fic­a­tion of the Wis­dom lit­er­at­ure. With his declar­a­tion of the poor in spir­it as blessed, Jesus countered such wrong and dis­crim­in­at­ory classifications.

Is Poverty a Blessing?
When Jesus declares the poor blessed and assures them of the king­dom of God, does he approve poverty as a way of life, and as a mod­el? Abso­lutely no! Poverty in its var­ied forms is not only a ser­i­ous sick­ness, but also an obstacle towards a sin­cere and object­ive wor­ship of God and of spir­itu­al growth. Poverty is not a state of hap­pi­ness and bless­ing, though it can become if accom­pan­ied by trust in God. In Luke 4:18, Jesus said he has been anoin­ted to bring good news to the poor (cf. Isa 61:1). This means, he has come to con­sole the poor and to lib­er­ate them from poverty (mater­i­al and oth­er­wise). Poverty is an enemy, which humi­li­ates and dehu­man­ises its vic­tim. Someone defines poverty as  humi­li­ation, the sense of being depend­ent, and of being forced to accept rude­ness, insults, and indif­fer­ence when we seek help. Poverty is a uni­ver­sal phe­nomen­on that affects con­tin­ents, coun­tries, states, peoples, com­munit­ies, fam­il­ies and indi­vidu­als dif­fer­ently. In 1999, the Cent­ral Bank of Niger­ia (CBN) defined poverty as a “state where an indi­vidu­al is not able to cater adequately for his or her basic needs of food, cloth­ing and shel­ter; is unable to meet social and eco­nom­ic oblig­a­tions, lacks gain­ful employ­ment, skills, assets and self-esteem; and has lim­ited access to social and eco­nom­ic infra­struc­ture such as edu­ca­tion, health, port­able water, and san­it­a­tion; and con­sequently, has lim­ited chance of advan­cing his or her wel­fare to the lim­it of his or her cap­ab­il­it­ies.” In 1997, a poor man in Kenya was asked what is poverty? Listen to his answer: “Don’t ask me what poverty is because you have met it out­side my house. Look at the house and count the num­ber of holes. Look at my utensils and the clothes that I am wear­ing. Look at everything and write what you see. What you see is poverty.” How many people have died due to poverty? How many chil­dren are deprived of edu­ca­tion because their par­ents are poor? How many mar­ried couples and fam­il­ies are exper­i­en­cing dif­fi­culties due to poverty? Poverty makes one look stu­pid, fool­ish, help­less, and in some cir­cum­stances, unwanted and use­less. Poverty is a dis­ease that must be thor­oughly dia­gnosed and cured. What effort has the Nigeri­an gov­ern­ment at the vari­ous levels made to dia­gnose and cure this ter­rible sick­ness? What about reli­gious lead­ers and insti­tu­tions? What effort are they mak­ing to ensure that their mem­bers are lib­er­ated from excru­ci­at­ing poverty (mater­i­al, spir­itu­al, and oth­er­wise)? And what effort are you mak­ing as an indi­vidu­al to free your­self of poverty?

Nigeri­an Gov­ern­ments and Poverty
Every gov­ern­ment in this coun­try has intro­duced one poverty alle­vi­ation pro­gramme or the oth­er. For instance, in 1994, the Nigeri­an gov­ern­ment inaug­ur­ated the Poverty Alle­vi­ation Pro­gramme Devel­op­ment Com­mit­tee (PAPDC), and since then, Nigeri­ans have wit­nessed the fol­low­ing: Oper­a­tion Feed the Nation (OFN), the Green Revolu­tion, War Against Indis­cip­line (WAI), Peoples Bank of Niger­ia (PBN, 1989), Com­munity Banks, Dir­ect­or­ate of Food Roads and Rur­al Infra­struc­ture (DFFRI, 1986), Bet­ter Life Pro­gramme (BLP, 1987), Nigeri­an Agri­cul­tur­al Land Devel­op­ment Author­ity (NALDA), Fam­ily Eco­nom­ic Advance­ment Pro­gramme (FEAP, 1997), Bet­ter Life for Rur­al Women, Fam­ily Sup­port Pro­gramme (FSP, 1994) and Nation­al Poverty Erad­ic­a­tion Pro­gramme (NAPEP, 2001), which was to be com­ple­men­ted by the Nation­al Poverty Erad­ic­a­tion Coun­cil (NAPEC). But why have these strategies not func­tioned? Why, des­pite these numer­ous pro­grammes, poverty and the num­ber of poor people keep increas­ing in this coun­try? It appears these pro­grammes were meant to enrich the func­tion­ar­ies not the Nigeri­an populace.

Bey­ond Mater­i­al Poverty
Gen­er­ally, people under­stand the poor as refer­ring only to the mater­i­ally poor. This is not cor­rect. Our under­stand­ing of the poor and poverty should God bey­ond mater­i­al things. As explained above, Matthew’s poor in the spir­it and Luke’s poor refer to those who know they depend on God for any­thing and, who put their trust in God, know­ing that without God they are noth­ing and can do noth­ing (cf. John 15:5–8). In as much as mater­i­al poverty is evid­ent in our soci­ety and in vari­ous parts of the world, we must not for­get there are oth­er forms of poverty. Mater­i­al poverty aside, these are also forms of poverty: spir­itu­al poverty, mor­al poverty, intel­lec­tu­al poverty, social poverty, cul­tur­al poverty. An unjust and par­tial lead­er (both civil and reli­gious) is poor. Reli­gious and civil lead­ers who abuse the author­ity entrus­ted unto them are vic­tims of abject poverty. A god­less per­son suf­fers gross poverty. Irre­spons­ible par­ents and lead­ers are poor. Dis­obedi­ent chil­dren are poor. A per­son who refuses to see and acknow­ledge the truth is highly con­tam­in­ated by poverty. In what does your own poverty consist?

Being (mater­i­ally) poor does not auto­mat­ic­ally make one meek, humble or gentle. There are wealthy people who are meek, humble, gentle, and poor in the spir­it, where­as there are many poor people who are arrog­ant, aggress­ive, insult­ing, and rich in the spir­it. As you fight and work against mater­i­al poverty, remem­ber, spir­itu­al poverty is more deadly. While it is very easy to recog­nise a mater­i­ally poor per­son, it is not so with spir­itu­al poverty. Spir­itu­al poverty is like deadly can­cer. Nor­mally, before it is noticed, it has des­troyed the per­son inside. Wheth­er you are poor or rich ensure you are poor in the spir­it, by put­ting your trust in God and in God alone. The mater­i­ally poor can share in this beatitude if he or she is poor in the spir­it. The mater­i­ally rich can as well share in this beatitude if he or she is also poor in the spir­it (cf. Luke 12:21). We can as well say that the poor or the poor in spir­it are those who live and work for oth­ers. Blessed are the unselfish; happy are those who live for oth­ers, and not for them­selves, for theirs is the king­dom of God.

Remem­ber, the worst poverty is life without God. Again, to be poor or to be poor in the spir­it is to recog­nise always and in every con­di­tion that without God, you are noth­ing, nobody and can­not achieve any­thing. Blessed are you when you com­pre­hend this fun­da­ment­al truth. May God free you from poverty, espe­cially spir­itu­al and mor­al poverty. The reflec­tion on the second beatitude. Sha­lom!

Email This Post Email This Post

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!