Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blessed are the Poor

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor."

The other day I was speaking to children about things that hinder our faith. I mentioned wealth as one such hindrance (since Jesus does, in Matthew 13:22). It was quickly noted by one little child, a cute little kid whose age is still in the single digits, that it's not wrong to have money. The comment was made as if correcting a teacher who said that the sky is green: "No, the sky is blue." I think this child spoke for many Western Christians, like myself, who are a little edgy about any kind of "less is more" theology. After all, the American way is to acknowledge that even having "more" is rarely enough. We have a "more is less" theology!

Anyway, it hit me today that riches of all sorts are a hindrance to faith:
- Too much money often leads us to unwisely trust in those riches.
- Too much education often leads us to unwisely trust our own intellect.
- Too much theology often leads us to unwisely trust our sophisticated belief system.
- Too much activity, religious or otherwise, often leads us to unwisely trust our own works.

I see this as a priority problem. When we have a lot of anything, it becomes hard to prioritize. So even though it's not wrong to have a lot of education, it becomes challenging to remember those several things that are the most important things to know. Or when we have an expansive theology, which should be a beautiful thing, it can quickly become unfocused and an end in itself.

Think of how often Jesus spoke about priorities. To name just one example, he reminded people of the greatest commandment in all the Law: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." And its flipside, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He did this because he was speaking to people who were "rich" in terms of laws; they had a big theology worked out around the law. They needed to learn priorities and live these priorities.

I think this is also why Jesus, and the New Testament as a whole, expects more from the poor than from the rich. The idea is that those who are poor will see their need more clearly, go to God more quickly, receive and express faith more simply.

As Americans, we are rich in so many ways that we keep really, really busy keeping all the plates spinning. As American Christians, we are likewise rich: whether in money, education, theology, activity, or all of the above. The spinning plates are not "wrong" - but if the entire New Testament is to be trusted, we are unlikely to have such wealth without losing sight of priorities. The spinning plates distract, and managing them keeps us from focusing our energies on the most basic biblical priorities.

"Blessed are the poor." We worship the one who said it. But we don't want to be poor, do we?