Blest are the poor

AT RANDOM - Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, SJ -
When you are rich you have everything. You have the best in housing, in food, in clothes, in entertainment and you enjoy the most luxurious forms of travel. And of course, the best of friends, because everyone likes to be a friend of the rich.

Also, if you are rich you are powerful. Your influence is great. When you talk, people listen. You can control elections. You can influence legislation. High government officials look for ways to ingratiate themselves with you, because your support is important to them. Maybe even the judiciary might not be totally immune from your influence.

When you go to the bank you don’t deal with the ordinary teller. You go direct to the President. It is said of a certain rich lady that when she went into a jewelry store, the doors were closed so that no other customer may come to disturb the great lady in a leisurely choice of the best pieces of jewelry.

And in this country, even if you are imprisoned for some crime, if you are rich, from your comfortable prison cell, you can influence what goes on outside. Because whoever has money has power. A priest in Chile told me, "Con plata se puede comprar huevos." With silver, you can buy eggs. That is a colloquial way of saying what the Spanish poet had said with greater elegance:

Poderoso caballeroes Don Dinero.

Mr. Money is a powerful gentleman.

Naturally, therefore, anyone with common sense would say, the rich are lucky, fortunate, privileged. They have the good life and can enjoy the good time. And if they want something done, all they have to do is say so and it will be done.

When you are poor, life is hard. You sleep on the hard floor. You can’t afford a blanket, so you shiver in the cold nights. For food you have a little boiled rice, a little salted fish — and some people don’t have even that. If you or any member of your family gets sick, you can’t afford the hospital. And you can’t buy medicines.

Also, if you are poor, you are powerless. People don’t listen to you. If you suffer injustice, you can’t get vindication.  There was a Tagalog phrase with a Spanish loan-word: "Walang kwenta." You don’t count.

To survive you are lucky if you can find work. Hard work in the hot sun. Or menial work in somebody’s house.

So, naturally, people of common sense would say, "How unlucky are the poor. How sad and unfortunate." The rich are lucky, the poor are doomed.

Yet Jesus Christ said just the opposite. He said, "Blessed are the poor. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In his set of values, the fortunate people are the poor, the weak, the powerless. Those despised by the world as of no account.

The rich may enjoy the good things of the world, but the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor.

Matthew softened the saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." That is an important qualification. Because not all poor people are blessed. Some are bad — thieves or vindictive people or too lazy to help themselves. Those are blessed who are poor in spirit who accept their poverty as a gift of God. And who try their best to cope with their hardships.

Also, there are people who are economically rich but who are poor in spirit. They look upon their wealth as a gift of God and they are mere stewards who must administer that wealth wisely for the good of others.

I remember a couple who won a very large amount of money in a lottery. They kept it secret. They went to the mayor and asked, "What does the City need most?" They went to the Bishop, "What does the Church need?" Then with the rest, they gathered all their belongings and went away, before everybody could come to ask for money.

That couple had a sense of stewardship. They were lucky to win a big amount of money. But they thought first of what the city and the Church needed. They were entitled to enjoy the remainder.

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