blessing poverty theology weakness wealth

Poor in Spirit


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3 (NIV)

When Luke records this dictum, he leaves off “in spirit,” so it becomes a saying about poverty. Yet what benefit, what good is there in being poor or in having an attitude of poverty? To answer this, I think we should consider the attitude of the rich.

What does it mean to be rich? What benefits does wealth confer?

Wealth does not make it possible to satisfy all your wants. In fact, there is nothing that can do that. Nevertheless, wealth expands the choices of the rich and provides greater opportunity and access to the means of satisfying more wants. Rich people don’t need anything. Their wealth is sufficient for them.

Consider what Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!

1 Corinthians 4:8

Paul’s criticism is that their perception of their own wealth has blinded them to the needs they still have. By becoming boastful and proud, they have lost the sense of dependency that is fundamental to the Christian life. Jesus, in his own life, demonstrated that same dependency. He relied on support from his followers for his livelihood, of course, but he again and again announced that the things he was saying and doing did not originate with him but with his Father, the one who sent him.

Like Paul, John also criticizes the church in Laodicea for the same spiritual myopia:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Revelation 3:17, 18

Like the Corinthians, the Laodiceans believed they were rich, and their misapprehension blinded them to their actual poverty and need. Wealth, therefore, comes with a spiritual curse. The rich are less likely to see their own need. This was also the case of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, so rich in their own conception of righteousness but so impoverished in love and care toward their fellow human beings.

The blessing of poverty, therefore, is an awareness of need, of dependence on others, ultimately of dependence on God. To those who are aware of their need, Jesus makes an extraordinary promise. The kingdom of heaven is theirs. That place ruled by God’s love, by mercy and grace, that place which he taught was within their grasp, already belongs to those who know they have needs they cannot meet themselves.


Why Health Care is Complicated


I’m turning 65 this year, so I’ve been receiving reams of unsolicited information about Medicare. As I’ve reviewed it, one thing has become very clear. The intricacies and Byzantine complexities of Medicare (and also of employment-based health care in general) are not to help consumers manage their health care expenses. They are to limit costs—and thus improve profitability—for health insurers and providers. One huge advantage to a single-payer federally funded health care system would be an exponential reduction in complexity and the costs associated with maintaining a bureaucracy to navigate those complexities. Those costs are already borne by consumers because they are passed on to them by insurers and providers in the form of higher premiums and some of the most expensive health care services in the world.

Conservatives drown out every good argument for radical change in our health care system with shouts of “Socialism!” but the truth is that most developed countries in the West have had tax-funded health care for their entire populations for decades without descending into chaos like Venezuela. Even in the United States we have decades of experience covering nearly everyone over 65 without all the catastrophes conservatives keep predicting for socialized medicine. It’s time to cut out the complications of our health care system and create a system designed with the best interests of health care consumers in mind.


Freedom for Parents


In an article for The Atlantic, Erika Bachiochi argues that connecting abortion rights to women’s autonomy and equality—in fact, virtually equating autonomy and equality—has allowed businesses to treat families as encumbrances. Instead of recognizing that men who have children also undertake a role of nurturing and caring for them, society has an ideal for women that guarantees them the right to behave like men, abandoning their role in nurturing and caring to further their careers. The result is an economic landscape that ignores families and their centrality to social stability and happiness.

Perhaps the strongest illustration of the brokenness of these ideas comes in the form of a counterfactual: Imagine a world without Roe and Casey, but with Ginsburg’s rightfully celebrated anti-discrimination successes in the 1970s. In this world, workplaces and other institutions better acknowledge encumbered women, duly encumbered men, and the child-rearing family’s demands generally. Rather than being “free to assume Roe’s concept of liberty in defining the capacity of women to act in society,” as the Casey plurality contemplated, employers are burdened instead by the reality—now too easily cast aside—that most working persons are, and wish to be, deeply encumbered by their obligations to their families and the important work they do in their homes. In such a world, authentically transformed by women’s legal, political, and social equality, today’s overburdened mothers and fathers just might receive the respect they deserve.

The Troubling Ideals at the Heart of Abortion Rights by Erika Bachiochi