The Blessing of Poverty, part 1

The Poor is a phrase with particular meaning. Like the term beatitude, it is a technical term. Perhaps you have not thought of the phrase in that manner. Perhaps because the New Testament has been so widely read and propagated on a weekly basis it is forgotten these words were addressed to a specific group of people in its day. When the definite article is noted, one discovers that the two word phrase is used 145 times within 142 verses of Christian scriptures. Only 25 of those verses are found in the New Testament. The remaining 117 verses containing the poor are found in the Old Testament. That indicates it is predominately an Old Testament people being recognised. Looking at its historic meaning is the beginning of understanding this Beatitude as a help. Jesus Christ was addressing a people living under an Old Testament Legalism. While remaining faithful to the texts, Jesus was offering liberty from Legalism.

There is a traditional rule of interpretation which states a term’s first mention fixes its meaning. In the least it becomes the standard for comparison. The axiom provides a guide-line to follow the meaning of a word within the genre of scripture. Applying this rule, the poor is first mentioned in Exodus 23:11. The text is instruction for land-owners. They are encouraged to exercise sustainable practices and to allow charity access to their profits.

Historically, Jesus was speaking to a specific culture. They were aware of an ancient code of ethics where the property owners were not to be greedy. There was not a condemnation for owning property or benefiting from that property. The principle revolved around what to do with the excess.

The poor are those dependent on the harvest leftovers. They are not lazy for they are willing to glean their own food. They were, in the eyes of society, a step above the beasts of the field; grazing for food. Yet they are people whom Providence had sympathetic feelings. He guarded their place in society commanding those more affluent to be contented with their harvest. The owners of the fields from which the harvest is drawn do not need its gleanings. The harvest is sufficient to meet their costs and fund their life-style. Any resources left behind in the main gathering were meant to be left for the benefit of others. They were for the poor.

The dignity of the poor is noted in that they were to labour for their sustenance. Welfare systems distributing to those in need without giving them the opportunity to contribute in a non-monetary fashion disempowers and robs their dignity. The dignity of the poor is preserved when they are required to labour for their sustenance. Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was one such person. She discovered she was in a situation of poverty. She chose to glean from Boaz’s harvest thus protecting her virtue.

The first Beatitude is a place of dignity. It knows deep down within you are worthy. Your worthiness is not determined by material ownership. Blessed are the poor is an historic reference to divine protection. Is there a better place to be? The poor who glean off the goodness of Providence is at peace with their circumstances. Most often it is those with plenty who struggle with purpose.

Spend time each day in books of wisdom. It might be only 5 minutes and every minute is an investment in YOU. You will find the ability to respond to life’s challenges instead of reacting to them. You will empower yourself to determine the circumstances instead of them determining you. Concentrate your energies on recognising there is a Power greater than you on your own. Tap into that Power and in so doing you will be ministering to your fellow human being. This inner quality learned from the position of poverty is far more valuable than houses, lands, or possessions.

[reprinted from sermon series originally delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, 2005]

You Are the Salt of the Earth

One of the unique aspects of growing up in the Great Lakes region of North America is associated with its hard winters. The Lake effect on the weather meant large volumes of wet snow fell often during the cold months. The heavy precipitation on frozen ground during freezing temperatures damaged the road ways. In Michigan, to make the roads passable, the local governments poured salt along the way. The vast store of salt in the region has been slowly depleting over the years. Not that the local residents are too sad about the situation. Salt on the roads creates havoc on motor cars. It encourages rust and limit’s the life of the vehicle. It is hoped that one day it won’t be necessary to use road salt. But salt works so well. It is a very useful compound.

And salt is the first ingredient in understanding who you are! You are the salt of the earth.

The introduction of salt into the Sermon on the Mount was given to illustrate the effect of the Beatitudes in your life. Applying the virtues championed in this ancient homily make YOU a worthy citizen of humanity. Like road salt you add value to the lives of others.

Salt is widely distributed in nature. As a solution, salt makes up about 3 per cent of ocean water by weight. As believers, we feel like 3% scattered abroad! You are more significant to society than you may realize. Just as cattle are instinctively drawn to salt, which all warm-blooded animals need to stay healthy, so too are others drawn to people like yourself.

According to Microsoft Encarta 2004, an adequate intake of salt maintains the ionic balance necessary for cellular functions in a human body. Thyroid problems can result from inadequate intake of salt. The world suffers from lack of ethics and requires a dose of salty people who dare to be true to themselves. You are needed! You have been distributed wherever you are—Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania in accordance to Providence. Providence makes no mistakes.

Salt is used as preservative on things that are dead, not living. Many in our World are dead to themselves. Society’s work is lacking life. If it were not for people like YOU wanting to live a purposeful meaning life of integrity, society would destroy itself. Salt does not work in its container. It must be applied to the object needing preservation. It is not good enough to possess these virtues; you must testify of them house to house; in the highways and byways; at work, play, and home.

Salt is used to treat wounds, preventing infection. You are like a nurse spreading virtue for the community’s wellbeing. It does no good to leave the medicine in the storeroom. It cannot be effective until it is applied. As someone who understands the value of principled living you have a moral obligation to administer the cure to Society’s woes. Quite often our actions are like salt thrown into an open wound and we all know how painful that can be! Yet we also know that the painful dosage protects the wound from infection and assists in its healing through the cleansing merits. Beatitude practicing individuals are the salt of society!

Salt has other uses, with fertilizer being among them. Nitrogen and potassium are forms of salt that many use in their gardens. Salt encourages growth, and so too ought we as Christians. We need to be a source of edification to our neighbour. The disciple of Christ is a source of blessing, not curse, to those around him.

The greatest use of salt is to add flavour to a meal. Too much, of course, ruins the taste of your dish. The world requires only the salt of Gospel Truth. Don’t expect them to embrace the entire Word of God. A pinch of Ten Commandments and Beatitudes are about all their taste can handle. The Christian life is not palpable to their taste. Nonetheless, Society needs Saviour. Salt is used to generate thirst. As believers, we need to be just salty enough where those without God will be thirsty enough to seek the water of life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Salt can loose its savour. Those salty persons who live the Beatitudes give flavour to their given society.

With such a dramatic illustration, let us turn to the first of Jesus’ nine keys to intentional living. The first Beatitude speaks of the blessing of poverty. It is the foundation for divine blessing and in contrast to individualism.

[reprinted from sermon series originally delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, 2005]