“Congratulations, You Poor!” Huh?

I have never been poor—short on money, yes. I barely scraped by in college. After college, I enlisted in the Marine Corps, hoping to be selected for the Officers Candidate School. As a private, I made $73 a month, or $2.39 a day.

After I was ordained, I worked in the mission field for $2,400 a year with a house, a car, and medical insurance included. Most months after the twenty-fifth, pickings were slim for me.

However, no matter how little money I make, I’ll never be poor long-term because of my education and creativity.

When I see poor, desperate people, I would never have the nerve to say, “Congratulations, you poor!” (Luke 6:20, the Scholars Version). It’s insulting!

The New Revised Standard Version of the Gospel of Matthew states, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). “Poor in spirit” is an empty saying to me. I strongly suspect Jesus never said this. It’s demeaning and offensive. Many people were trapped in poverty because the Romans, Herodian dynasty, tax collectors, high priests, and synagogues taxed them to death, literally.

Where in the universe is the kingdom or empire of heaven? Not one of the two to four trillion galaxies out there is labeled Heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not futuristic, but present now within each of us, if we want it.

The new Scholars Version translation of the Gospels has changed “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20 NRSV) to “Congratulations, you poor!” (Luke 6:20 SV). That’s awful! Congratulations? I suspect no poor person would ever feel honored by living in abject poverty.

Annie and I visited Hawai’i in late September and worked with some homeless people, which always means the poor. Some lived under a roof, but after rent, they had no money. Most lived in tents wherever the police allowed them but had to move frequently. A few lived in doorways at night. A couple of the guests at this event had part-time jobs. Very few admitted to having a family. Most of the guests knew St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Honolulu and its hospitality very well.

A couple of them came to church on Sunday morning. Many had mental issues. All had a look or an aura of hopelessness. Our society does a terrible job of helping the homeless become valuable members of society.

Annie and I arrived at St. Mary’s at 7:00 a.m. and sorted clean used clothing for couple of hours. At 9:00 a.m., the clothing racks and tables laden with shoes, hats, and bedding were put outside the sanctuary doors, where the guests were eagerly waiting. Then the portable showers arrived, along with staff from many social service agencies. A meal was served at 10:00 a.m., and each guest took a sack of canned foods with them when they left.

About a hundred people came. By 11:30 a.m., the event was over, the kitchen was cleaned, and most folks had left—some thankful, others angry that they had to live this way.

How could one ever say “Congratulations” or “Blessed are you poor” to them? The only thing I would say to the homeless is “Damn the system for allowing you to fall so low, and damn the system for catering to the rich and allowing the poor to keep getting poorer.”

What would you say?


Image courtesy of David 23 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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