Who is Jesus talking about in the gospel of Luke when he says,
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20b, ESV)?
When I talk to other Christians about Jesus and the poor, the conversation typically focuses on three demographics:
- The working poor — Men and women who are underemployed or facing hardship. They are trying their best but can’t make ends meet.
- The helpless poor — Men and women who will never be able to earn for themselves because of old age, disability, or chronic illness.
- Those lazy people — Men and women who are capable of working but would rather do drugs, smoke cigarettes, and get drunk.
Which demographic is Jesus talking about when he talks about the poor?
The original language defines a poor person as someone who “has no other choice but to beg.”
A biblically poor person depends on the generosity of others for survival.
As much as we may not like it, this definition excludes the first demographic, “the working poor.” This makes sense, because otherwise, Jesus would be referring to most of Israel at the time. All of his disciples would have been considered “working poor.”
But that’s not who he is talking about.
Most Christians would agree that when Jesus talks about the poor he is definitely talking about the second demographic, the helpless poor.
So what about the third demographic? “Those lazy people.”
I know hundreds of people in this category. After years of working with them, I can tell you this:
They are sinners.
Just like me.
And they have found themselves in a position, at least in the present moment, where they have no other choice but to depend on the generosity of others for survival.
They are beggars, and biblically, they are poor.
Now that we have a working definition of what it means to be poor, is Jesus right in saying they are blessed? And what does that even mean?
But still. The poor… blessed?
The reason Jesus says the poor are blessed is that he wants us to change the way we think. In fact, that’s the definition of the word repent — to change our minds.
The kingdom of God is a place where God’s children joyfully depend on Him for all provision.
With that in mind, who will feel most at home in the kingdom? Those who can take care of themselves? Or those who depend on the generosity of others?
We don’t typically believe that beggars have anything going for them. But Jesus says they are blessed and the kingdom of God is theirs for the taking.
Just think about that for a second.
God’s kingdom is for the poor.
Then Jesus says this about the rich:
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24, ESV)
I don’t think Jesus is saying poor people go to heaven and rich people go to hell.
But I do think he wants to challenge the way we think. Because typically, we think the best thing a poor person can do is become middle class. So we try to “fix” them.
All the while, they have learned to utterly depend on God. Something I can’t even do for a whole day.
Maybe that’s why Jesus’ mission was to “preach the good news to the poor” and not “create jobs and hand out money.”