The gospel reading for today relates the Beatitudes. Any attempt to make a reflection on the whole of the beatitudes in this small space would be futile, so instead, we will concentrate on the first one. Blessed are the poor. It is hard to say in how many ways the beatitude has been interpreted.
Some interpret that the beggars, the exploited, are the kind of people God is pleased with and it should be ensured that all become like them! This is, of course, an absurd, deviant interpretation. The humanity dreamed of by God is not the one in which his children are poor, but one in which “no one is poor” (Acts 4:34).
Others believe that the poor in spirit are those who, while maintaining the possession of their property, are detached from them and generous in bestowing offerings on the less fortunate.
But alms—even recommended in some (rare) biblical texts—do not introduce the new justice into the world and nor does it solve the root problem of the equitable division of assets.
The principle of each to their own that underpins our justice system seems wise and sensible. But it stems from a false premise, that something belongs to a person, while, in fact, everything is of God.
All possessive adjectives that we use express an erroneous perception of reality: if all is of God, it makes no sense to talk about mine, yours or even of ours.
In respect of goods, Jesus never assumed the attitude of contempt that characterises the cynical philosophers. For them, dishonest wealth also becomes good when it is distributed to the poor (Luke 16:19).
However, although Jesus never condemned this, he regarded it as a threat, “an obstacle—insurmountable for many—to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).
From those who want to follow him—from those who want to be holy—Jesus asks for total detachment. “None of you may become my disciple if you do not give up everything you have” (Luke 14:33).
It is in the context of this essential requirement to share all that is available to us from God that the beatitude should be read.
Jesus does not exalt poverty as such. By adding the specification in spirit, he makes it clear that not all the poor are blessed. Only the ones who, by free choice, strip themselves of all and manage their assets according to God’s plan are blessed.
The poor in spirit are those who decide not to possess anything for themselves and make available to others all that they receive. Mind you: the poor according to the gospel are not those who have nothing, but those who do not keep anything for themselves.
Voluntary poverty is for all, the renunciation of the selfish use of all property that you own is not something optional, not a counsel reserved to some who want to be heroes or more perfect than others. This is what distinguishes a saint, every Christian.
The promise that accompanies the beatitude does not refer to a distant future. It does not guarantee entry into heaven after death, but announces an immediate joy: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. From the moment the choice to become and to remain poor is made, you enter the kingdom of heaven.
This beatitude is not a message of resignation, but of hope: no one will be in need when all will become poor in spirit, when they put the gifts they have received from God at the service of others.
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ