Let’s read Luke’s version of the Beatitude in Luke 6:20-26.
Please turn with me to Luke 6:20-26.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.
This is similar to Matthew 5, but there are some notable differences. One obvious difference is in v20 – Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. It doesn’t say, poor in spirit, like it does in Matthew 5. Just poor.
Related to this, there are 4 blessings and 4 woes. 4 blessings for those who are: 1) blessed are the poor, 2) hungry, 3) those who weep, and 4) blessed are those who are hated because of their love for Jesus. Then, the 4 woes: 1) woe unto the rich, 2) well fed, 3) those who are laughing and 4) woe to those who are spoken well of.
When you take the first blessing–blessed are the poor–and you connect it to the first two woes–woe unto the rich and woe unto the well fed, the message is pretty clear, isn’t it? Unlike Matthew where it is talking about spiritual poverty, or the poor in spirit, Luke is talking about the literal poor, those who are not rich materially speaking, those who are hungry, or not well fed.
Why the two versions? Why can’t the gospel writers get their facts straight? Poor in spirit and just plain old poor – why the discrepancy? First off, I want to point out that there isn’t a 1 to 1 relationship between spiritual poverty and material poverty. You can’t draw the simplistic conclusion that those who experience spiritual poverty and those who experience physical poverty are identical. We can’t say that if you have no money and no food, automatically, you feel your spiritual poverty and therefore you are blessed by the Lord. Nor can you say that those who have big bank accounts and wear nice clothes never experience their spiritual poverty, and therefore, it is a foregone conclusion that they’re cursed. The Bible is not that simplistic.
But there is a link between spiritual poverty and physical poverty and the key is in how material things affect our relationship with God. Why are the poor in spirit blessed by God? Because the poor in spirit are constantly going to God, Lord, I need you, Lord, have mercy on me, Father, I am running on empty, deep in my soul, I’m famished, please feed me.
However, if you are rich in spirit, if you think you are spiritual and you’ve gotten the basics down, then you don’t really need a daily, moment by moment relationship with God. You’ll go to God once in a while when you really need help, but most of the time, you can skate by on your own without Him. Then, for all intents and purposes, you are living like a practical atheist.
How is this related to being physically poor? Certainly, I know some people who have little financial means who are complete atheists. And there are rich people who are incredibly godly. So why does Luke mention the financially poor as being blessed in contrast to the rich and the well fed who are cursed?
To answer that, there is a story of a rich man in Matthew 19:16-26. Please turn with me there. From the other gospel accounts, we know this guy was rich, he was young, and he had power. He was a ruler. Pretty devastating combination. This rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him in v16, “…Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” From the text, we see that he also was a religious man. He kept all the commandments. He never murdered, he never committed adultery, he honored his parents, he loved his neighbors as best he could. But he lacked one thing. Jesus said, if you want eternal life, “…go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
This rich man was doing everything right externally. He was like many of us. We are generally decent people. We’re fairly nice. We don’t want to deliberately hurt anyone. Plus, like this rich man, we try to be moral. Why else would you be at church? Yet, despite everything, this rich man felt his spiritual poverty, he had a sense that he lacked something. Wealth, youth, power and he was moral. But he still felt a lack so he went to Jesus and wanted to learn what else he needed to do to get eternal life.
And Jesus went straight to the heart of the matter. If you want to follow me, then sell your stuff. I imagine, upon hearing those words, the jaw of this rich man must have dropped. That’s the last thing this rich man expected Jesus to say. The rich man couldn’t do it, so it says, he went away sad because he couldn’t let go of his wealth.
Jesus provides some commentary for this encounter with the rich man in Matt 19:23-26.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
It’s really, really hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Imagine a camel going through the eye of a needle. It’s impossible. It’s equally impossible, by analogy, for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. That’s a sober warning for the rich. In the end, most who are rich will walk away from Jesus sad like this man. But while the salvation of a rich man is impossible with man, all things are possible with God. God does impossible things, like saving those who are wealthy.
How does wealth affect your relationship with God? Recall what I said earlier. The poor in spirit, those who feel a deep, prolonged sense of lack in their heart, these people will turn to God readily and ask him to sustain them moment by moment. In other words, they will rely totally on God and develop a relationship of constant trust and dependence. It’s a relationship of complete reliance on God.
What about those who are rich in terms of finances? Wealth will cause you to feel less needy for God. Why do you need to depend on God moment by moment when you have money, when you have opportunities, when you have degrees? It’s a life with many options. If Plan A fails, don’t worry, I got Plan B.
Like in IT, you get RAID hard drives because your data is spread over multiple drives such that if one drive fails, don’t worry, you got a backup drive that has everything on it. Or web servers, you load balance 2 identical web servers so that if one server goes down, the site remains up because all the web traffic can failover to the server that is still running. You have all your bases covered. You are safe in the event of a disaster.
If your relationship with God is not going well, don’t worry. Focus on your studies. Put in overtime at work. Turn on the TV. Watch a movie. Go out and eat a steak. Or, take a vacation. We have so many options. The rich have so many other things to prop up their lives. Faith is just one of the many options so if our relationship with God goes sour, don’t worry, we have our disaster recovery plans in place.
Be honest. None of us in this room really has to rely on God all too much day in and day out. We can get by fine without Him. Isn’t this true? We have to recognize this as a huge, a HUGE spiritual detriment. It’s a huge handicap in the spiritual landscape to be rich, rich monetarily, rich in our talents, rich in terms of opportunities, rich in the myriad of ways that we can distract ourselves. Because God wants us to depend on Him moment by moment.
Look back on this past week, how much did you cry out to God? How desperate were you to be near God? How much did you long to be in His presence? How much did you ask for mercy?
For those living in poorer economic conditions, their day to day life is a constant reminder, life here is broken. This is not how life was meant to be. And they long for Jesus in a way that I’m afraid may be completely foreign to me and you.
Is it any wonder that Jesus went to unschooled and ordinary men and made them his disciples? Isn’t it any wonder that Jesus went to seek and save those who recognized their lostness? He went to heal those with real sicknesses, whether physical, or emotional, or mental, not the healthy and the ones who have it all together. Jesus went to the literal poor as well as the spiritually poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, those who are so poor or so rotten that they know they have nothing to offer God.
We can’t do much about our physical wealth except to give it away or to downgrade our lifestyles. If you find that physical wealth is hindering your spiritual life, perhaps Jesus may challenge you at some point in the same way that he challenged the rich man. He may ask you to give up your wealth. Oh no, that’s too radical. Is it? If he challenged you right this moment to give up your wealth, will you walk away sad? Will you exchange a blessing-filled spiritual life that cheaply? Just so you can live comfortably for a few decades and then suffer for a few billion years eternally? Don’t trade in spiritual riches for physical riches, or any other idol for that matter.
Are you in the category of the rich in spirit? You don’t really need God because you have spiritual life figured out. You feel like you have so much to offer others. You feel like you’ve arrived because there is nothing more to learn about spiritual life. You’ve somehow managed to fit an infinite God of the universe into a box of trite sayings and cliches and traditions. This is someone who thinks he is rich in spirit.
Or, are you poor in spirit? You don’t have the answers. You don’t have spiritual life figured out. God is infinite so you feel like the more you get to know him and the longer you live out your Christian life, the more questions you have and the fewer answers. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.