Blessed are you who are poor (Luke 6:20); not, I suggest, a strap-line to promote support for your cause.
As I prepare this reflection, we have another new Prime Minister. Beyond the immediate, and inevitable, speculation on what this might mean for us all, the news headlines and analysis focus on the growing problems of poverty and what he and his new team might do about it. Poverty certainly doesn’t look like a blessing; either for the poor, or for those in high office.
Human society, in just about every age, places great store on material wealth; for comfort, power or as just reward for our labours. Yet, throughout the Bible, there is a strong counter thread. When Mary said He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away (Luke 1:53) she was echoing sentiments expressed by Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, over 1000 years earlier. When Jesus speaks of blessings for the poor and suffering, with corresponding woes for the rich and comfortable, (Luke 6: 20-26) he has an eye to something deeper than just physical comfort. Blessed are you when people hate, exclude, revile, defame you on account of the Son of Man … (Luke 6:22)
Behind this lies the question, ‘where do we place our trust?’ Jesus was speaking to a culture that saw wealth as a sign of God’s favour; poverty the reverse. Here, not for the first time, we see that understanding stood on its head. Yet, wealth is also a gift of God. The Promised Land was to be ‘flowing with milk and honey’ or think of the vast quantity of wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2). With wealth comes the responsibility to use it wisely; to recognise that it is the gift of God, not ours by merit. Where that responsibility is met, the hungry will be filled and the poor will experience the kingdom of God; that is to say a kingdom (or community) in which God’s ways are uppermost, here and now. Where that responsibility is met, then the rich too will be a part of that kingdom; for the measure you give, will be the measure you get back (Luke 6: 38).
Rev’d Philip Payne
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