Looking at his disciples, [Jesus] said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” — Luke 6:20
Many, if not most, of the people who listened to Jesus’ words that day were poor. The difficulties and hardships of their lives drove them to listen to this prophet, Jesus. As those who lacked material wealth, they may have hoped Jesus would tell them more about the kingdom of God — the day when the righteous Messiah and not the cruel Romans would govern them.
From his initial statement, Jesus launched into a series of statements that turned the crowd’s perceptions upside down. Jesus’ speech contrasted possessions and values with those that flow from a heavenly perspective. In a few sentences, Jesus affirmed that things in this world are not always what they seem and certainly are not what they will one day be.
At face value, it seemed as though Jesus was making a blanket promise of salvation and blessing to everyone who was poor materially. Based on this interpretation, some have viewed the poor as God’s chosen people — those who suffer in this world but can expect immeasurable blessings in the next. Those holding this view often advocate that God’s people, the church, should prioritize ministry to the poor and, in this way, advance the kingdom of God.
Others view Jesus’ statement as an insight into spiritual poverty, referencing a similar sermon in which Jesus talked about the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). In their view, Jesus was offering a great blessing to those who recognize their spiritual poverty before God. Because they acknowledge that nothing they do can enhance their spiritual standing, these people, the poor in spirit, receive God’s unmerited favor. So, in this second view, Jesus is not affirming the value of being poor materially but warning against the profound danger of being self-sufficient spiritually.
The Poor and the Poor in Spirit
Since Jesus referenced both the “poor” and the “poor in spirit,” the implications of his words can be intertwined. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus met the practical needs of the poor — feeding, healing, and honoring them. Despite this emphasis, Jesus refused to place a higher priority on meeting physical needs than on meeting spiritual needs. Through his words and his actions, Jesus demonstrated the divine balance — pay attention to those with physical needs but never forget the priority of spiritual needs.
Article drawn from the The Jesus Bible, NIV Edition.