Local Opinion Editorials


Reflections on Poverty


Now that I’ve got your attention…

Why write about “poverty” when most persons are trying their best to pursue “the American Dream?” And, to top it off, Labor Day is approaching, isn’t it? Yes, indeed.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NRSV).

The word for “poor” in the Greek of the New Testament is the word ptochoi, which means one who is a pauper. This is language we don’t use everyday, when we speak of such abject poverty, bone crushing poverty. And most of us try to put it out of our minds because to be poor is not desirable in our middle class to upper middle class belief structures. And yet, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Most persons do not think of themselves as “spiritually poor,” either. We live in a culture, which has been schooled in popular psychology, and popular psychology has strengths and weaknesses, just like every system of thought. One strength is that it treats people as “teachable,” and that by “education,” a process whereby persons learn and grow, it is possible to improve in the ways we relate to others and in the ways we handle daily living. Actually, that’s quite good.

Evangelical Christianity, on the other hand, has tended to view human nature as “depraved,” meaning “not measuring up” to what God calls us to be and in rebellion against God’s standards.

What is called for is not a “pat on the back,” but that we need to be “re-done.” In today’s American culture, this kind of thinking is hard to take for many people. But, when Evangelical Christianity speaks of “rebirth,” it is indeed, speaking of being “re-done.”

The most difficult part of knowing that we need to grow, or that we need to be “born again,” is recognizing that we are spiritually poor, perhaps even spiritually bankrupt. Now, to be sure, most of us, if we were to honestly place ourselves on a scale of “1-10”, with “1” being absolutely bankrupt spiritually, and “10” having arrived at spiritual advancement would place ourselves somewhere on that continuum. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as bankrupt. And I would dare to say that all of us, unless we are arrogant, do not think that we’ve “arrived” at being spiritual masters.

But, Jesus tells us that if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, that we must understand that we are spiritually “poor,” meaning, that we are not “sufficient” in our self understanding, and certainly not sufficient in our understanding of God and God’s ways. How, then, can we advance in spiritual growth? In truth, we do need to be “re-done,” at least if we embrace the idea that the human race is sinful. This being “re-done” re-orients us Godward and begins a powerful re-ordering of ourselves so that we are put in harmony with God. Now, what is the practical outcome of this? First of all, we are given access to heaven, and eternal life with God forever at the time of our death. But, secondly, as we enter this new life, and we grow in love for God and other people, we become more like Christ through the deep, inner working of grace within us. We become more tolerant of others, and are capable of being patient with them and truly loving them.

All of this grows out of our understanding that we truly are “poor” in spirit. My prayer is, we will understand, that what we “do” on the outside, really proceeds from what is deep “on the inside.”

Grace and peace to you.

The Waynedale News Staff
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Rev. Chris Madison, Senior Pastor First United Methodist Church, Wabash, IN

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