The Poor
(The Freeman) - February 17, 2019 - 12:00am

An old movie titled “Quo Vadis” concerns the persecution of Christians in ancient Rome under the reign of Emperor Nero.

The movie starred Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr.  One day, after a dangerous filming session, a newspaper reporter asked Deborah Kerr, the leading actress, “Weren’t you frightened when the lions rushed toward you in the arena?”

Deborah replied, “Not at all! I’d read the script, and I knew I’d be rescued!”

Deborah Kerr’s  childlike trust in the stuntmen assigned to protect her is a good example of the childlike trust that poor people had in God in biblical times.

To understand why Jesus calls these “poor” people blessed, we need to understand  who Jesus had in mind, when he referred to the “poor” in his Sermon on the Mount.

Once a priest told me, “The beatitude doesn’t make sense.  The whole world is fighting poverty.  And Jesus is saying, ‘Blessed are the poor!’”

Remember that when Jesus says, “Blessed are you,” he is not saying, “God will bless you.”  When Jesus says, “Blessed are you,” he means you are blessed now.  How fortunate you are!

How can the poor be fortunate?  Here we must remember that when ancient Jews used the word “poor,” they used it in a variety of ways and, therefore, in different senses than we use it today.

We use it to refer to someone who is destitute, like a beggar, or those, who live in the slums or sleep on the sidewalks.  We use it to refer to someone, who has no material possession.

This kind of poverty – material poverty – is not a good thing.  It is the kind of poverty that is dehumanizing.  It’s an evil condition.  It’s the kind of thing that every Christian ought to be trying to eradicate from our society.  That’s why the Church and parishes have social action programs.

Jesus never intended to call material poverty blessed.  He never intended to approve of the poverty that we see in the slums of our cities, and the towns of his time, the dehumanizing poverty.

Who and what did Jesus have in mind, then, when he said, “Blessed are you who are poor?”

The Hebrew word for “poor” that Jesus used was the word “ani.”  This word had an interesting history.  It went through four stages of development before reaching the meaning that Jesus had in mind, when he used it in the Sermon on the Mount.

In other words, the poor in biblical times could be used in four different ways.

First, the word could be used as we use it: to refer to those people, who were without material possession, the destitute.

Second, because these people were without material wealth, they were also without influence and power.  They were marginalized.  And this gave rise to a second way that the word could be used.  It could be used to refer to those people who were helpless and without influence.

Third,  because these people were helpless, they were often oppressed and exploited.  This led to a third meaning of the word “poor.”  It could also be used to refer to the exploited people.

Fourth,  because these people were without wealth, without help, and without protection, many of them put all their trust in God.  This gave rise to the fourth and final meaning of the word “poor.”

It described those persons who put their total trust in God.  And this is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “Blessed are you, who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”

It is the Be-attitude, the attitude that should be ours as followers of Jesus.

In other words, Jesus was referring to those people without wealth, without influence, and without protection; who put all their hope and trust in God.

Thus the poor, whom Jesus called blessed were those people, who had come to realize that they couldn’t depend on the things of this world for happiness.  So they sought their happiness in God alone.  God meant everything to them.  Material things meant next to nothing to them.

These people, as Jesus said, were truly blessed.  And so to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are you who are poor,” we might re-word his statement this way: “Blessed are they, who realized that they can’t depend on the things of this world for happiness and put all their trust in God.”

Jesus said elsewhere to his disciples: “Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your lifespan?” “If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?…” “Your Father knows that you need [these things].  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides…  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

St. Augustine expressed the trust we should have in God in these words:

“Trust the past to God’s mercy,

the present to his love,

and the future to his providence.”

There is a saying: “Nothing happens to us that is not from God’s love.”

Today and this week, think about the many ways you can deepen your relationship with Godby growing ever more trusting of Him.

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