Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development USAID, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. I can’t remember all he said of but one thing he said stuck. He said, “We have the capacity to eradicate extreme poverty in the world.” He defined extreme poverty as those who live on less than $1.25 a day. Immediately my mind drifted to something Jesus said in Luke 6:20. Jesus was introducing his disciples to a new ethic; new way things would work in his Kingdom society.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

Blessed are you who are poor,
or yours is the kingdom of God.

In the original Greek the word blessed can be translated honor or honorable. In other words, you could read the text like this: God honors the poor. We don’t live in a shame-based culture so it’s hard for us to grasp what Jesus did when he said these words. Jesus lived in a time when life was dictated by shame and honor. Honor was a big deal and no one would think God honors the poor. Jesus said God honors the poor – later he said, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Hear Jesus speak to their idea of honor and shame.)

In the original Greek the word blessed can be translated honor or honorable. In other words, you could read the text like this: God honors the poor. We don’t live in a shame-based culture so it’s hard for us to grasp what Jesus did when he said these words. Jesus lived in a time when life was dictated by shame and honor. Honor was a big deal and no one would think God honors the poor. Jesus said God honors the poor – later he said, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Hear Jesus speak to their idea of honor and shame.)

I used to think, mostly because it suited me best, that when Jesus said, “God honors the poor,” he meant (s) the poor in spirit. I guess poor is spirit is easier for me to swallow then monetary poverty because one speaks to my time the other speaks to my money (lifestyle). In Matthew’s Gospel the emphasis on the word poor is poor in spirit  (whew) but in Luke’s Gospel poor refers to those who are without monetarily resources. (Ugh) In Luke’s Gospel poor means those who live on less than $1.25 a day. Poor meant (s) those who struggled to eek out an every day existence. Daily food intake is based on the ability to work that day. Anything that interrupts the ability to work, say a rainy day for roofers or field laborers, impacts the ability to eat that day. Monetarily poor meant (s) day-to-day existence but it also includes another group – the destitute, those who can’t work. An example from Jesus’ day would be the beggars or the widows without children to care for them. They were unable to work – destitute. The destitute rely (ed) upon the mercy of the community to survive each day.

Jesus said God honors the poor. He continued by saying the poor go hungry and weep.

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

In the Old Testament people wept because they suffered from injustice. In the New Testament people wept over death and/or shame. If there’s congruency between the Old and New Testament then we can deduce the poor wept because of the injustice done to them and the shame heaped upon them. At that time in history it was the Roman Empire who treated the poor unjustly and heaped shame upon them. (Galatians 3:13) Who are those powerful empires today whose policies (economic, social and political) push people to make more shameful choices in order to survive? Jesus says woe to you.

My mind wafted back to the voice of Rajiv Shah on stage. “We now have the capacity to eradicate extreme poverty.” But, he said, any one group won’t accomplish it. Not the government. Nor business. Not even faith based groups. Eradicating extreme poverty will require the commitment of all of these groups working together for common ground for the common good.”

It made me wonder, “What do I need to lay down? What fight must I give up? What issue, group, bias, passion or thinking do I need to lay down so that I can find common ground for the common good? So that I can be a part of eradicating extreme poverty. What do you?

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor – woe to the rich.”