“Blessed are the poor…”

This the passage that was going through my head as I walked through the streets of a village in Guatemala last week.

It was a poor village. Just up the hill from an orphanage. The orphanage provides food for many of the children in the village.

“Blessed are the poor…”

It’s Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. There’s no wiggle room in this version. No middle-class room for debate or a way to comfort ourselves out of the discomfort of poverty with this. Nope, Luke just makes it plain and simple – “Blessed are the poor.”

Here’s the full version:

“Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God. 
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 
‘But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have received your consolation. 
‘Woe to you who are full now,
   for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
   for you will mourn and weep.”

The contrast is quite clear. There’s no avoiding it. There’s no squirming away from it. It’s like the poverty that you come face to face with when you walk the streets of poverty in a place like this village in Guatemala. There is no escape from it. No matter how hard we try. No matter how many excuses we make. No matter how many scapegoats we create. No matter how much spin. No matter how much we debate individual effort versus group responsibility and systems. It doesn’t matter. These people are living it every day and will continue. All our words don’t matter. Because our words are designed for one thing – to comfort us and help us to avoid our own discomfort with their poverty.

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

As I walked through the streets of this village we came across a house and checked in with a family. One of the girls wasn’t at the school that morning. How was she? I looked in. The village sits on the side of a hill more or less. The house, if you want to call it that, (dirt floors with tin and boards for the structure) was missing an entire side. It had been washed away in a rain storm recently. One complete side of their house was gone. And in its place was an incredible view of the valley below.

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

Extreme poverty is something most Americans have little to no experience with. I’m willing to bet most Americans would be in culture shock with this kind of poverty. It would bet most Americans want to run away. It would be too much – a shock to the system. But maybe that’s exactly what we Americans need – a shock. Maybe we need many shocks to wake up to reality. The reality that so many people in the world are living in great poverty. That so many people in the world are poor. That so many people in the world don’t have what American’s have – the luxury of avoiding discomfort.

It’s really easy for us to focus on the blessings in the Beatitudes. Who doesn’t want blessings after all. But the blessings are also linked with Woes. The first one being Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. In other words, you’ve been able to avoid discomfort. The time is coming when you won’t be able to. And the sad thing is you won’t know what to do, and no one will be there to comfort you in the midst of it.

The older I get the more I realize that it is a waste of time to think that I can change anyone’s mind. The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday has Jesus offering a parable that is quickly becoming one of my favorites – the parable of the unjust judge and the woman who is a pain in the ass to the judge. She gets her way not by convincing him, or changing his mind or heart or because he decides to do the right thing for the right reason. No, he’s a jerk and will remain a jerk. He gives her want she wants because she doesn’t quit and she wears him out. Her cause is just and that’s what keeps her going. Evil is exhausting and people who follow that path will look for the easy way out. And they will quit. Let whose who have ears hear.

Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who are a pain in the ass for justice’s sake, for yours is character that just won’t quit.

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