Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (ESV)
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1 November 2013
When I was a student at Loyola University, New Orleans, there was a great kafuffle when one of the New Testament professors argued that Jesus did not command physical poverty in the New Testament. This caused great angst at Loyola because so many of the monastic orders of the Roman church are organized around the renunciation of worldly goods and property. When the professor lamented to me about being attacked by some of his colleagues, I churlishly pointed out to him that a certain German monk had already made this argument in the sixteenth century. Being something of a rebel, he was delighted to find out that, at least on this point, he had made common cause with Martin Luther.
I believe there is a little of the Roman church in the heart of every Christian. We all tend to believe that there is something basically evil about riches themselves. A great deal of the class warfare fomented in our political culture is generated out of the presupposition that affluence can only be gained by unrighteous means. So to help these people out of the dilemma of affluence we tax away their obviously excess assets. This is a moral two-fer. We can lighten the pockets of the unrighteously rich starting them upon the path of true righteousness and we can use their money to support whatever good causes our legislatures determined are to benefit from the alms, uh, contributed by the rich through the tax code. We can help others and feel good about giving away their money too. A lot of our political debate today is driven by a middle class that is guilty about its own affluence. We are eager to do penance through the tax code.
All of this entirely short circuits the Bible's teaching about true righteousness before God. Things or their lack do not make us righteous in the presence of God. The poorest man might well be the most hardened unbeliever. The richest person could be deeply devout and entrust his whole life and being into the hands of his gracious God. The amount of our possessions does not help or harm us Christians in the presence of God, if we know how to use them rightly. If we do not set our hearts on the things of this world, then possessions have no moral value. We must possess our goods, without being possessed by them. True righteousness before God has no ultimate reference to our wealth or its lack, but to what we have treasured. Have we treasured the things of God or have we treasured the gifts of God in such a way that God has been dethroned. Have we honored creation over the Creator?
God wants us to use rightly whatever He gives no matter where we stand on the sliding scale of rich and poor. Our true blessedness depends on spiritual poverty, in which we plead our own total spiritual poverty before our heavenly Father and depend upon the alms which He has granted us in Christ our Savior, who gave Himself for ours sins to rescue us from this present evil age (Gal 1:4). It is just fine to be poor when our rich righteousness comes from God.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3).
"'What? Must all Christians, then, be poor? Dare none of them have money, property, popularity, power, and the like? What are the rich to do, people like princes, lords, and kings? Must they surrender all their property and honor, or buy the kingdom of heaven from the poor, as some have taught?' Answer: No. It does not say that whoever wants to have the kingdom of heaven must buy it from the poor, but that he must be poor himself and be found among the poor. It is put clearly and candidly, 'Blessed are the poor.' Yet the little word 'spiritually' is added, so that nothing is accomplished when someone is physically poor and has no money or goods. Having money, property, land, and retinue outwardly is not wrong in itself. It is God's gift and ordinance. No one is blessed, therefore, because he is a beggar and owns nothing of his own. The command is to be 'spiritually poor.' I said at the very beginning that Christ is not dealing here at all with the secular realm and order, but that He wants to discuss only the spiritual; how to live before God, above and beyond the external.
"Having money, property, honor, power, land, and servants belongs to the secular realm; without these it could not endure. Therefore a lord or prince should not and cannot be poor, because for his office and station he must have all sorts of goods like these. This does not mean, therefore, that one must be poor in the sense of having nothing at all of his own. The world could not endure if we were all to be beggars and to have nothing. The head of a household could not support his household and servants if he himself had nothing at all. In short, physical poverty is not the answer. There is many a beggar getting bread at our door more arrogant and wicked than any rich man, and many a miserly, stingy peasant who is harder to get along with than any lord or prince.
"So be poor or rich physically and externally, as it is granted to you-God does not ask about this-and know that before God, in his heart, everyone must be spiritually poor. That is, he must not set his confidence, comfort, and trust on temporal goods, nor hang his heart upon them and make money his idol. David was an outstanding king, and he really had his wallet and treasury full of money, his barns full of grain, his land full of all kinds of goods and provisions. In spite of all this he had to be a poor beggar spiritually, as he sings of himself: 'I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers' (Ps 39:12). Look at the king, sitting amid such possessions, a lord over land and people; yet he does not dare to call himself anything but a guest or a pilgrim, one who walks around on the street because he has no place to stay. This is truly a heart that does not tie itself to property and riches; but though it has, it behaves as if it had nothing, as St. Paul boasts of the Christians: 'As poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything' (2Co 6:10)."
Martin Luther, Sermons on The Sermon on the Mount
Collect for All Saints
Almighty and everlasting God, you knit Your people of all times and all places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For all the saints who are suffering persecution at the hands of those who desire to stamp out the faith of Christ in the world, that they might faithfully confess their adherence to the faith and continue to have hope for the unspeakable joys of heaven
For the growth of faithful Christian congregations, that many more people might hear the mighty Word of God and be brought into the fellowship of the saints
For Wayne and Arlene Murray, that they might be kept in the faith of Christ the Savior
Art: Eyck, Jan van The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429)
© Scott R. Murray, 2013