you poor

Perhaps the biggest problem I've struggled with here is my resistance to using threats or coercion against the guests here, especially because they are poor and vulnerable, while at the same time realizing that some of their choices and behavior make coercion seem necessary (both for them and others who live around them). I think a big part of my confusion in this area has had to do with my inattention to how Jesus spoke about and interacted with "the poor."

Of course, I've had help getting confused. There has been a great emphasis in past years on the poor, how Jesus spoke favorably of them and spent his time with them, etc. And the Catholic Worker emphasis on Mt 25 and "encountering Christ in the poor."

But, like I said yesterday, I have been aware that Jesus makes a distinction in how he talks about the poor. Once, during a discussion here, someone was talking about "Christ in the poor" and saying it was a mystery that we have to accept even when the poor person we've met isn't much like Jesus. He mentioned "blessed are the poor." But I pointed out that Luke 6.20 says: "He lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.'" Jesus doesn't indicate all poor people, he says blessed are "you poor," and he's speaking specifically to his disciples.

Matthew's version says, "blessed are the poor in spirit." I've disliked how people use this version to detach blessedness from actual material poverty, but it does emphasize that material poverty itself does not produce blessedness. Jesus' words in Luke also indicate that, while material poverty is certainly involved (Jesus and his disciples are actually poor), it's not poverty alone but following Jesus in his poverty that is blessed.

Matthew 25 is also used heavily to support a certain view of the poor. I've written before about this. Jesus identifies himself with "the least of these my brethren," who have been in need of food and shelter, in prison, strangers. The focus seems always on the neediness when this is interpreted. And it's true that the "the least" are truly in physical need. But the phrase "these my brethren" is usually overlooked. Are all the poor really considered brothers and sisters of Christ? No where else does Jesus identify himself indiscriminately with the poor. Yet he often speaks of his "brethren" and identifies himself with his followers. Again, I think this carries the same message as the Luke passage. Jesus is speaking of real need and suffering. But he identifies himself with his suffering followers, his brethren, who are hungry, homeless, imprisoned, strangers in society because they are following him and facing the persecution he faced.

The blessed life and being identified with (one with, a brother to) Christ involves real need and poverty, but also more. "Poverty of spirit" is perhaps the best name for it. But I need to explore this more.