Luke 6:20 The Poor Are Blessed
Proof read by Mr. Masatsugu Nagata.
1. The message given to us for today is one of the very famous sayings in the scriptures. But, in giving it careful reflection, it is not a saying that we can glibly say Amen to. In particular, as we keep on in our reading what the Lord Jesus said in verse twenty-four, "But those who are wealthy are wretched," if we take this at face value we will be unsettled. Because we who live in modern Japan are all wealthy, we're all rich. I may claim to be poor, but when you look once around the world, we are all unmistakably very well off. We probably should say [we're living] luxuriously. So then are we wretched as it says in verses twenty-five and twenty-six, and will we one day end up starving and only crying tears in pain? Or can I take comfort going by Matthew chapter five where [a person] is rich materially but everything's okay since he is poor in "heart?"
2. In searching a biblical word dictionary, the expression "poor" is found many times over. And in reading this with concentrated effort, it always seems that Christianity is a poor person's religion. Even more, it seems that the phrases of "be rich, be wealthy, and riches" are at times more connected with words of "cursing" than with being blessed in both the Old and New Testaments. I'll give you several famous examples.
3. "Truly I say to you. It is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven," (Mt 19:24).
4. "When the sun rises and the hot winds blow hard, the grass dries up, the flowers withdraw and their beauty is lost. Similarly, those who are rich vanish midday in their lives," (James 1:1).
5. "O rich ones, listen well. Think of the disaster that will befall you and weep. Your riches will rot away, insects will eat your clothing, your gold and silver will turn to dross. This very dross will even be proof of your sin and it will consume your flesh like fire does," (James 5:1-3).
6. Not only we moderns but even the disciples of Peter took surprise at Jesus' words. According to what it says (in Mt 19:27), "Thus, we have so abandoned it all and followed you. So now what will we get?," we ask "What will you give us now that we are poor?" I sense a familiarity with the words of Peter. When I confessed the faith and became a Christian I was a twenty year old student and was not rich. But [I remember] the Lord Jesus said to a rich youth, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and donate them to the poor. By so doing you will accumulate treasures in heaven. Then follow me." Matthew 19:21 was a big obstacle.
7. When I used to be troubled over how to express the faith, Japan was awashed in waves of student movements. Universities had nonstop strikes in their classes and there had been demonstrations on a daily basis. Marxist-Leninism was not a simple ideal but had been a subject that truly won over [the minds of the students]. It was a well-known saying of Lenin that "Religion is the opium [of the masses]." By claiming today that "The poor are blessed. The kingdom of God belongs to you," it is a phrase that dupes the poor, takes their ambition away, and bleaches the eyes of the masses from the class war in which they ought to be engaging in. It is "antirevolutionary."*
8. At this point there are two questions that come to us. Can we not be allowed in the kingdom of God by staying wealthy?
9. Since it says that the poor are blessed, should they be left as they are?
10. [Or is it], no way, such questions are wrong?
11. In order to understand the message the Bible is hereby directing to us, let's set aside our doubting and try to re-read the Bible one more time with careful attendance. The first thing I notice is there is a variant description in a parallel account in The Gospel Of Matthew. I think this is an important point here. Matthew puts it as "The poor in heart are blessed." It has a meaning like "the poor in spirit." Actually, the Pharisees belonged to the non wealthy classes. They were poor, but they were blamed severely by the Lord Jesus as a people with a haughtiness that was based on a self satisfying religiosity. A pharisaical piety that saw itself as good with respect to God was but bragging about "a wealthy heart." Luke doesn't state at what point they were poor, but the persons of whom these words were spoken, since they were the same people, had external poverty, pure poverty, internal poverty and were poor in the sight of God, and these two overlap, and they were surely people in wait for the kingdom of God, living quietly in this world and with few possessions. In short, we see that they were people always longing for the kingdom of God. Those who puff out their chests and boast of keeping the law [or] those that have as many possessions as they can trust in are already comforted in this world and even though the Lord Jesus came they do not expect any kind of transformation [in themselves].
12. As we read a little more of The Gospel Of Luke, we find two characters blessed by Christ. One person is famous, even a child knows [him]. (Any youth in this church would know of him). The other person is unnamed. The famous one is very rich. The unnamed one was a blind beggar. Let's take a look at how the Lord Jesus spoke to both of these persons.
13. Please look at chapter eighteen and verse thirty-five. The town of Jericho here was a place where people going to Jerusalem were constantly passing through. Near the town there were beggars squatting on the roadside probably right where most of the traffic was heaviest. Besides that they probably had no other means of support for their living. It was a very dusty road. It wasn't a paved road like the roads in Japan. Amid the hot sunshine of Palestine, alongside the roads where the dust stood in the air sat a pitiful blind man. The Bible doesn't say how old he might have been, but he probably had some age on him. Mark tells us that his name was Bartimaeus, (Mark 10:46). All the man would ever do till his death was to depend on others for their compassion. [But now] Jesus was coming there. The Lord cared for him, too. Of course, Jesus was deep with love. But, there is something I want us to really think about for a minute. What in the world do I have to do with begging and a blind man? The truth is I don't. My eyes can see. I don't beg for anything. Jesus showed loved to a pitiful person who was so completely different from us. What is this story then saying? Let's change the point of view here just a little.
14. If we sit at the roadside like Bartimaeus did and close our eyes, there will be something for us to see that is totally opposite. As we listen to the noise of people, whispers, footsteps alone, we would think are they putting in any money for me or did they pass on by without stopping? The news no doubt came to him as well about a very famous person now coming through the area. The person who could do miracles and who raised a dead daughter back to life was at last going to Jerusalem. Unless he got him to help him now, he was fit to be tied desperate that he might never have another chance in his life again. The scripture states that he kept crying out with a loud voice, "O son of David, have mercy on me!" He shouted as he brushed aside the people's [attempts] to restrain him. I think the people around him must have thought like this, though they didn't actually say it: Aren't you just a beggar? You're not the kind to receive favors from Jesus! [But] as we read the scriptures we think he is exactly the kind that would take part in the blessings of the Lord. We distinguish him from [who] I [am] in every way possible.
15. "Who is the one crying there? Bring him to me," commanded the Lord. "What do you want me to do for you?" He may have hesitated a second. It was so very strange a question. He couldn't see. So he couldn't work. So he only throws himself on his mercy and isn't it that he is set on wanting to be able to see? But the Lord expected an answer from him. The Lord Jesus was looking for the man's feelings to go in the Lord's direction. I will digress [a moment], in the Psalms crying out to God like this is found frequently. "When troubles attack, if I call upon you, you will always answer me," (Psalm eighty-six).
16. After that the man did not say, "Thank you very much. Now I can work. See you later." It is recorded that he followed Jesus. Some think that what he saw with his enabled vision was the wretched figure dying on the cross of the one who did him a favor. With these eyes that saw Jesus, he saw Jesus' murderers. He probably thought not being able to see was better. We can imagine the one who recorded his name in The Gospel Of Mark was someone related to him, the gospel writer, or the readers. When all is said and done, the Bible says that [Matthew and Luke], who would have been the ones to know, wrote about what [the beggar] in some sense saw or could see with his enabled vision. When you get down to it, it is written from the looks and perspective of a beggar from the roadside. The meaning of the Bible is not perceptible if we don't see it from that way.
17. The account's context makes it plain to us the kind of place where the Lord had directed his own looks and perspective. [The context] is the story of Zacchaeus [Luke 19].
18. Finally, Jesus had entered the town of Jericho. The man, whose eyes he had healed, probably followed right behind him. When I traveled Palestine with my wife we saw that fig trees were planted by the rows. They are different from fig [trees] in Japan. It is a very large tree. Jesus immediately took notice of a man on a tree along the roadside. This Jericho was a highway town. It had taxes. The Roman empire sold the rights to collect taxes to prominent persons over the land, though collecting taxes wasn't done through a government organization. So taxcollecting was a private enterprise. They would ensure a profit, then, by using all manner of coaxing and persuasion. Zacchaeus was the owner of a taxcollecting agency and the head of other taxcollectors. The money was collected with very much the support of the Roman authority. They even could do wrong things [to collect the taxes]. Ironically, the name Zacchaeus had the meaning "Righteous man." Since he was unbelievably short in height, I don't know how he did it over and over, but he finally arrived at a profitable position in life. The eyes of the people who saw him must have been cold. He was probably never looked at with warm looks. He and others swarmed the road and knew that the famous Jesus of Nazareth was coming through here. Didn't he have the courage to show himself before Jesus? He looked from atop a tree. Or maybe the crowd was in the way so he couldn't get out front [to Jesus]. "Who are the likes of you? Jesus will have nothing to do with a fellow like you." Just one look at Jesus was all he wanted, I can easily understand this feeling of his. When I was young, I wanted just one look at Dr. Tadao Yanaihara** and that would have been satisfying enough for me. I adored him. I thought if I could meet him something would really happen. (But of course, he had died back then. Then I was about to meet one of his followers, Dr. Saburo Takahashi***. I prepared to meet him, he was then the head of the science department, when I finally was about to meet [another] follower of Yanaihara, the professor Tomita****, I was invited to church. Quite possibly he became a member these days of the independent "non church" [whose theology is indigenous to Japan and is a church that teaches that buildings and the props of religion are counterproductive to true faith, a kind of Buddhist hippie version of Christianity] and might be reading the scriptures by himself.)
19. Something surprising happens here. "O Zacchaeus, please hurry down. I would love to stay at your house today." In English Bibles it says, "I must stay at your house today." I must stay. He was set on staying over with him. It means that that's why he came. [When the student says,] "I must" it is used in something important. Luke 9:22 [says] "The son of man must experience much suffering indeed, -- he [must] be murdered and on the third day raised back from the dead."
20. We're sure Zacchaeus had a house, but did he have a family you imagine? Would his wife have looked at him warmly, this Zacchaeus who was looked at with a cold eye by society? She would have had his money but she might have been embittered with a husband with a bad reputation. I would suppose his family was not happy either. That might be why the Lord Jesus said, "Salvation has come to this house today."
21. Seen by Jesus on the tree Zacchaeus felt instantly that his looks at him were different from the ones everyone [else gave him]. Zacchaeus must have said, "I wanted to meet you." He may not have sensed it in himself but he was waiting to be loved by God. When he met and saw the Lord, he realized that this is what he had been hoping for!
22. When we see it like this, don't we see how Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus were alike somehow? One person was rich and the other was perhaps completely penniless. But, when they put their eyes on Christ, their lives were completely changed. They started entirely new lives.
23. At first I mentioned that I couldn't say Amen to the saying "The poor are blessed." It may have been the influence of socialism on me. But, now I realize the real point. The point is whether a person wants his or her own life changed or not. If we agree to them, then they become words of classical wisdom. Though we might cry out [like the beggar did], when we come to the Lord privately [or even stealthily like the taxcollector did], the Lord Jesus doesn't ask me how much do I have.
24. Let's pray.
*"Antirevolutionary" was like a flag word to mark anything that had to go and was useless for the movement of bringing in the new world of classlessness.
**Yanaihara Tadao was a professor and president of Tokyo University with his PhD work in the field of the economy.
***Takahashi Saburo was an evangelist and a New Testament scholar with his PhD dissertation on Luther's theology.
****Tomita (Kuzuhisa) was a professor at Kyoto University with his PhD in physics.