The God of No Account
Reflecting on the Third Sunday after Pentecost: Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 75
Old Testament: 2 Kings 4:1-7
Gospel: Matthew 10:16-25
Psalter: Psalm 140
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:16-22
Gospel: Matthew 10:16-25
God our refuge and hope, when race, status, or gender divide us, when despondency and despair haunt and afflict us, when community lies shattered: comfort and convict us with the stillness of your presence, that we may confess all you have done, through Christ to whom we belong and in whom we are one. Amen.
Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.” So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest” (2 Kings 4:1-7).
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Those who are poor in spirit comprise individuals who are utterly devoid of material benefits and who know their compete dependence upon God for their daily bread and their spiritual needs. The Greek word ptōchos for “poor” refers to the destitute, the homeless. How true it is that more than anyone, the truly needy know their need for God more than those who have plenty. God warns his people in the Old Testament not to forget God in times of prosperity:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Deuteronomy 8:10-14).
The phraseology of “poor in spirit” was used by certain Jewish communities to describe themselves. In theWar Scrollof the Dead Sea Scrolls we read,
...[the] humble he [God] has not spurned, and he has not overlooked the needy in trouble, he has kept his eyes on the weak, and paid attention to the cry of the orphans for help. He has listened to their cry, and because of his abundant mercies, he has shown favor to the meek. He has opened their eyes to see his ways and their ears to hear. (see also Psalms of Solomon 10:6; 15:1).
Here we see two themes that Jesus touches upon in this first beatitude. The first is that the poor are utterly without their own resources; they are dependent fully upon God to provide for them. Secondly, it is because of that desperate dependence on God that they can see God's provision in the smallest ways through the generosity of others. The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit because they have put their hope in God who will one day secure justice for them. Michael Wilkins states, “This attitude of humility in the harsh realities of life makes a person open to receive the blessings of the kingdom of heaven.”
But as I have mentioned in an earlier post, the flip side of blessings—of beatitudes—are curses. If the poor in spirit are blessed and they will receive the kingdom of heaven, the curses then seem to be reserved for those who have more than they need. Later on in Matthew, Jesus will speak of the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of heaven.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (19:23-24).
Wealth brings with it the illusion of self-sufficiency. When individuals pray the words of the Lord's Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread" while knowing they have more than enough bread for the day and beyond, the words offered in prayer border on meaningless utterances. How seriously can we pray these words of the prayer our Lord taught us when we really do not have to depend on God for even small morsels of our daily nutrition?
Jesus’ first beatitude counters the prosperity gospel that deceptively affirms that wealth and prosperity are signs of God's blessing and God's approval. The pop theology that obedience to God brings good things and good times is a trite and shallow theology that will not stand up to the scrutiny of Jesus’ teaching. If the prosperity gospel is correct than Jesus should have said, “Cursed are the poor in spirit who will never receive the kingdom of heaven.”
Instead Jesus offers to us in this first beatitude a revolutionary way of understanding our relationship to wealth because it matters in reference to our relationship to others; for our abundance cannot be separated from the want of so many. One day, God will set things right for the poor in spirit and the task of Jesus’ kingdom people in the here and now is to reflect in our way of life and by our lifestyle that the kingdom of heaven, though not fully here, has nevertheless arrived, and the poor in spirit are beginning to get their due.
The poor in spirit know their need for God. In so doing, they turn to God, and God through his people show his favor to the poor in spirit. God is the God of those who others deem of no account—the widow and her son in Elisha’s day and those who have been cast off in our world today.
PRAYER: Redeeming Sustainer, visit your people and pour out your strength and courage upon us, that we may hurry to make you welcome not only in our concern for others, but by serving them generously and faithfully in your name. Amen.