Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 38: The Beatitudes part 2: Blessed Are the Poor
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 38: The Beatitudes part 2: Blessed Are the Poor

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

In First Century Palestine, people regarded poverty, sickness, or disfigurement as signs of divine judgment. People believed that disenfranchisement reflected punishment for one’s own sins or the sins of one’s ancestors. It’s easy to see the scapegoating mechanism at work here – people felt justified in excluding or even abusing those who were poor, sick, or disfigured. Mistreatment of disenfranchised people had a sacred flavor in that it complimented punishment by God.

Again, Jesus turned common beliefs upside down. He said, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the “kingdom of God.” The rich, he would later teach, have great difficulty entering the kingdom of God. As we will explore in later essays, we should not regard the kingdom of God as an other-worldly place where poor people are rewarded with paradise while malicious rich people get there comeuppance. A First Century Jew would not have denigrated God’s earthly creation in favor of an other-worldly paradise. I think Jesus was teaching that the poor can receive and give God’s love, and there is no greater gift than communion with God and God’s creation.

In order for wealth to generate self-esteem, rich people must find the lives of poor people pitiable and contemptible. Rich people must own better things and have a superior “lifestyle” that poor people actually (or “should”) covet, and display distinctive manners that poor, less educated people have difficulty emulating. Rich people consume conspicuously in order to encourage envy in others, because such envy confirms in the minds of rich people that a more modest lifestyle is indeed pitiable and contemptible.

Rich and poor are relative terms, and poor people of one community may have more material wealth than rich people of another. From a mimetic rivalry standpoint, it really doesn’t matter how much actual material wealth one has. What matters is how much one has in relation to one’s neighbors. In other words, a principle purpose of wealth is to enhance self-esteem by making wealthier people feel superior to poorer people. However, this tends to make poorer people feel humiliated, which breeds resentment, which easily leads to violence.

Rich people protect their assets (often ill-gotten gains originally obtained with deceit and/or force) with police and military forces. The police force protects their “property rights,” and the military can both defend their wealth by excluding envious neighboring countries and can enhance their wealth by invading weaker neighbors and stealing their resources. Of course, violent defense of wealth can be dangerous, and when the resentment of poorer people start to threaten wealthier people, those with money and power generally first try to appease the angry mobs by uniting with them against a common “enemy” – a scapegoat.

All these activities disconnect rich people from the loving, compassionate God who could provide meaning and direction to their lives. To the degree that wealthy people believe that the lives of poorer people are pitiable and contemptible by comparison, wealthy people stand apart from the rest of humanity and the rest of Creation, increasingly alone in a mysterious, often terrifying Universe. As the writer of Ecclesiastes observed, it is vanity to think that striving for personal gain situates people better in the Universe; every living thing shares the same fate of death. Jesus said, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24)

So, indeed, the poor are blessed. Their lives may be harsh, but they are not drowned spiritually under the weight of wealth. Next week, we will explore what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21b)

Go on to: Part 39: The Beatitudes, part 3: Blessed Are You That Weep
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