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Luke 6:20b

Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Matthew 5:3

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are the poor or poor in spirit or both? Did Jesus make a difference between these two kinds of poverty?

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Considering that there are already a number of discussions on this site that address the first beatitude in the gospel of Matthew (5:3), these reflections will focus on the parallel verse in Luke:

  • Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. —Luke 6:20

Consider the above verse together with the following:

  • The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. —Luke 4:18

Together, these two verses convey God’s core message of hope – his good news and blessings upon the poor. Though all are equal in God’s eyes (Jobs 34:19), the poor have a special claim to God’s compassion and concern. In their need they call upon the Lord. He remembers their cries.

  • A poor person utters pleadings, But a rich person answers defiantly. —Proverbs 18:23
  • He does not forget the cry of the needy. —Psalm 9:12
  • For he will save the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper. 13 He will have compassion on the poor and needy, And he will save the lives of the needy. 14 He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, And their blood will be precious in his sight; —Psalm 72:12-14

“Blessed are you who are poor.” This phrase is thus seen as more than just a truncated version of the parallel verse in Matthew. When the word “poor” is used alone without a modifier, it allows room to consider not only the physical and spiritual, but also the other forms of poverty and affliction in the world. In her work among the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa identified three general categories of poverty – material, social, and spiritual, with each condition more difficult to address than the one before. Beyond these, she considered one of the great deprivations suffered by the poor to be the denial of their dignity as the children of God:

“Poverty doesn’t only consist of hunger for bread, but rather it is a tremendous hunger for human dignity” (Mother Teresa, No Greater Love)

  • But you have dishonored the poor. —James 2:6

When poverty is considered in its multiplicity of forms, the poor of Luke’s beatitudes seem more like a depiction of all humanity rather than of any discrete segment. Again as Mother Teresa puts it, “Before God, all of us are poor.” If these reflections have any merit, perhaps one could say that in as many as ways as there are poverty and affliction in this world, just as many and more are the blessings of God’s compassion and mercy.

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Part of a Larger Body of Preaching?

I'm going to offer an educated guess here.

The differences between the two renderings may be due to Luke's narrative being shorter than Matthew's in this instance. It may also be true that Jesus preached a great deal more than is recorded in either Gospel -- as part of a much larger body of material, and that these select words were used to suit their respective themes. It will be remembered that John writes: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written" (Jn. 21:25).

This is likely true throughout the Gospel narratives, as could be the case here. Jesus preached to multitudes everywhere; we may only be given a snapshot of the entirety of His Message. Luke is placing more emphasis on Jesus' words highlighting the blight of the poor. I do not think that Matthew is excluding those in poverty but adds the poverty of the spirit, a condition the impoverished know all too well (cf. Lk. 16:19ff, 1 Tim. 6:17) in contrast to the affluent.

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