I’ve been poor lately. Quite poor actually. Despite having a masters and multiple years of experience in my field, I left my career and went back to grad school. The result was, of course, relative poverty.
Relative poverty isn’t necessarily being kicked on the streets. This kind of poverty does mean a significant lifestyle adjustment. It meant rice and beans – if that. It meant going without health insurance. There’s gotta be something better than minimum wage, though, granted, I chose this life.
I was reading ancient literature this morning. The sort that people fight wars over and give up all they own to follow. The literature was written by a physician of antiquity, as a letter to a contemporary who was questioning whether he had been told the truth about some events recent to him. Despite being a letter, it’s really a historical account of the most influential person of all time: Jesus of Nazareth.
In the account Jesus makes a startling statement about poverty, and suffering. Whether he is right about poverty and, well, everything else he said and did, makes the difference about whether there is something better than minimum wage.
Jesus says something which makes modern American Evangelicals queasy:
…Blessed are you who are poor,Luke 6:20b-22
because the kingdom of God is yours.
21 Blessed are you who are now hungry,
because you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
because you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you [now],
when they exclude you, insult you,
and slander your name as evil
because of the Son of Man.
I sat down for coffee with a fellow server at a Thai restaurant I work for. He left what he understood Christianity to be for atheism. One of his genuine struggles was why so many faithful people would suffer so greatly and remain in such poverty, if Jesus is on the throne, reigning as a king. I mean, if as Kanye says, JESUS IS KING, when why do the faithful followers of Jesus suffer so? Are all the blessings kept for later?
Jesus highlights a hard reality of his present kingdom: It’s present glory is hidden. While there may be a few churches with multi-million dollar budgets, the vast majority have far fewer persons and expenditures. Most Christians worldwide have it much rougher than Joel Osteen.
Thus, in my poverty now, I am blessed. Why? Because one day I will not be. In my hunger now, I am blessed. Why? One day I will be fat and happy. So the question is, what is that one day?
An anonymous work within the same ancient compendium as the previous passage has the answer:
1 Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.
13 These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. 16 But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.Hebrews 11:1, 13-16 respectively.
There is a church called Sojourn. They take their name from the concept of the people of God wandering through a wilderness. God’s there with them, sustaining them with miracles and food… but they can’t stay there. It’s not home. So it is with those who follow Jesus. This ain’t home – but we’re headed there.
Until then, we’re blessed from a distance. That’s better than $15 an hour.