the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Devotional Hours Within the Bible
Poverty and Riches
Luke 6:20-26 ; Luke 16:19-31
The Beatitudes are glimpses of heaven ; that is, the conditions they describe are qualities which belong to the heavenly life. Those who live there are lowly, are meek, are pure in heart, hungering after righteousness, and are merciful. We cannot think of any people in heaven who are proud, resentful, or unmerciful, who thirst after worldly power or fame. To get the Beatitudes of the New Testament into our hearts and lives, even as beginnings, is to enter upon the heavenly life.
“Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.” This beatitude is not pronounced on the poor in worldly circumstances; for one may be very poor and yet very proud; or one may be rich in worldly goods and yet be very poor in spirit. Nor is it on the poor in mind ; for mental poverty is not necessarily a state of blessedness; and ignorance certainly is not desirable. It is the poor in spirit, in disposition, on whom the beatitude is pronounced; that is, the lowly in heart, the humble, those who are conscious of their unworthiness.
Humility is an attitude that bows reverently before God, and then holds its most divine gifts as not too good or too fine to be used in Christ’s name in the service of the lowliest of God’s creatures. The bible everywhere speaks it praises of humility. God dwells with the humble. Christ only once opens a window into His own heart, and through this window it is this picture that we see, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). To be poor in spirit is to be rich toward God; while pride of heart is spiritual poverty. Humility is the key that opens the gate of prayer; while to the loud knocking of pride there comes no answer. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are humble. They may wear no earthly crown but a real crown of glory, unseen by men, rests even here upon their heads!
We are sure always of Christ’s sympathy with the poor. He was Himself brought up in poverty. His mother could bring only the offering of the poor when she brought her child to present Him to the Lord. In His public ministry, He said He had nowhere to lay His head. He rode on a borrowed donkey, on His triumphal entry. He slept in a borrowed grave, when He was dead. He understands poverty’s conditions. He is the poor man’s friend. Poverty itself is not a blessing; but the poor who love Christ and follow Him have many blessings.
“Blessed are you who hunger now for you will be satisfied.” Hunger means dissatisfaction, craving, desire, yearning, longing. It strikes us somewhat strangely at first, that there should be a beatitude for dissatisfaction. We know that peace is promised to the Christian, and peace is calm repose and satisfied restfulness. The word “hunger” appears to suggest experiences incompatible with rest and peace. But when we think a little more deeply we see that spiritual hunger must form a part of all true Christian experience. In all of life hunger is a mark of health. It is so in physical life; the loss of appetite indicates disease. So a healthy mind is a hungry one; when one becomes satisfied with one’s attainments then one ceases to grow. The same is true in spiritual life; hunger is health. If we become satisfied with our faith, love, obedience, our communion with God, and our consecration to Christ we are truly in a sad condition. We have ceased to grow. Often invalids die amid plenty, die of starvation, not because they can get no food but because they have no appetite. There are many professing Christians who are starving their souls in the midst of abundance of spiritual provision, because they have no hunger. There is nothing for which we should pray more earnestly, than for spiritual longing .
“Blessed are you that weep now for you shall laugh.” Weeping is not usually considered a blessed condition. We do not think of those having sorrow as fortunate. We pity them, and think their condition most unenviable. Here, however, is a special beatitude for mourners. Probably Jesus meant particularly, those who are sorrowing on account of their sins. In all this world there is nothing so precious before God as tears of contrition ; no diamonds or pearls shine with such brilliance in His sight! It was Jesus Himself who said that there is joy in the presence of God over one sinner that repents on their earth.
Truly blessed, therefore, are those who grieve over their sins ; a holy light shines from heaven upon all such mourners. They are comforted with God’s pardon and peace .
But the beatitude refers also to those who are in sorrow. Blessing is never nearer to us than when we are in affliction. Someday we shall see that we have received our best things from heaven not in the days of our joy and gladness but in the time of trial and affliction. Tears are lenses through which our dim eyes see more deeply into heaven and look more fully upon God’s face than in any other way. Sorrows cleanse our heart of earthliness and fertilize our life. The days of pain really do far more for us than the days of rejoicing. We grow best when clouds hang over us, because clouds bear rain, and rain refreshes.
“Blessed are you when man shall hate you.” We do not like to be hated. Nor can everybody who is hated take shelter under this beatitude. Many people deserve to be hated. It is only those who are hated for being and doing good who can claim this blessing. If any of us are suffering in this way here is comfort for us. There have been times in the history of the Church, and in the history of almost every great reform when those who would be loyal and true could be so, only at the cost of losing their friends, often at the cost of property and reputation, even of personal liberty sometimes of life itself. We must read down to the end of the verse, before we begin to congratulate ourselves, that the hatred we find in our neighbors toward us is a mark of God’s favor. “For the Son of man’s sake,” the verse reads.
“Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation.” Evidently it is not very safe to be rich. It is not easy to be rich and to be a godly Christian. Jesus said a great many words about the rich and about riches which show that those who have wealth are in a perilous position. People would not think of a prosperous man, a man growing rich, as especially needing the prayers of a congregation. Yet perhaps this is the very man in all the community, who most needs to be remembered with prayer. Those who are rich or getting rich would better look well to their spiritual state.