Jesus christ makes it clear:
“god takes sides.”
where Jesus Christ gave his famous sermon.
RACHEL: Our mobile unit has traveled today to the Mount of the Beatitudes, a few kilometers from Capernaum. And with us we have Jesus Christ, whom we will interview once again for Emisoras Latinas. All these interviews can be found on our Web page. Jesus, what feelings do you experience here, in this place where you pronounced one of your most unforgettable discourses?
JESUS: Deeply moved, I must say, Rachel.
RACHEL: According to research I have done, on this mountain you spoke of the law and the prophets, of placing ourselves in the hands of providence, of the efficacy of prayer, of the golden rule…
JESUS: I don’t know if I spoke of so many things, but I do remember that I uttered the most important message about God’s Reign.
RACHEL: You’re doubtlessly referring to the beatitudes, because this mountain is named for them, the Mount of the Beatitudes.
JESUS: It had rained heavily a few nights before, I remember… Hail had fallen. The farmers lost their harvest – they lost everything. The landlords didn’t want to open up their granaries; the lenders were sharpening their fangs.
RACHEL: And in that difficult situation you got the people together and spoke to them.
JESUS: Yes, there were a lot of people, and they were desperate. The children had no food, the widows were begging for alms…
RACHEL: That was when you promised them the kingdom of heaven.
JESUS: What do you mean, the kingdom of heaven?
RACHEL: That is, you told them that after this vale of tears they would enter into the kingdom of heaven, isn’t that what you said?
JESUS: No, I never said that.
RACHEL: You said: Blessed are the poor in spirit because…
JESUS: No, no, no. I said “Blessed are the poor.” Just that. The really poor.
RACHEL: But … but in one of the gospels, I think it’s Matthew’s, you refer to the poor in spirit.
JESUS: Well, perhaps my friend Matthew was playing tricks with my words, and he was surely with well-intentioned, but he distorted what I said.
RACHEL: So you weren’t referring to people with humble hearts?
JESUS: I was referring to poor people, to hungry people, to those who weep from the cold. To the homeless, the landless, the jobless. To those of us who don’t have any bread to put in our mouths.
RACHEL: “Those of us”? Were you including yourselves among those poor people?
JESUS: Yes, I was one of many. I also knew hunger. That’s why they said to me, “Physician, cure yourself!” Because I was a poor devil without a cent in my pocket … and me talking about the liberation of the poor!
RACHEL: Liberation in the kingdom of heaven, in the great beyond.
JESUS: No, Rachel. Liberation on earth, in the great here and now.
RACHEL: Can you explain that better?
JESUS: I spoke about the Reign of God, but as far as I can see, they understood some kingdom in heaven.
RACHEL: But what’s the difference? I don’t see it.
JESUS: The difference is that heaven is way up there and very far away. The kingdom of heaven is a promise for later on, a consolation for after death.
RACHEL: And wasn’t that what you preached so much about?
JESUS: Quite the contrary, Rachel. The Reign of God is for right now, for today. It’s not for the other life, it’s for this life.
RACHEL: What else did Jesus Christ say on this mountain? What is the meaning of the Reign of God? We’ll take a short commercial break and then continue live from the Mount of the Beatitudes. Rachel Perez. Emisoras Latinas. Go ahead, studios!
ANNOUNCER: Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Neither a list of commands nor consolation for the future
The Mount of the Beatitudes is a hill situated a few kilometers from Capernaum. At its summit there is an eight-sided church, in memory of the eight beatitudes recorded in Matthew’s gospel. This is one of the most famous and familiar of the messages of Jesus of Nazareth, and it is perhaps the one that best captures the essence of his theology.
Sometimes the “beatitudes” are interpreted as a list of norms of conduct: “one should” be poor, “one should” be merciful, etc. This moralistic interpretation misrepresents the contents of this “good news”, which was addressed to the poor, to the losers, to the powerless. The beatitudes are not moral norms, and much less are they formulas of consolation for people who are having a tough time in this life, telling them to suffer patiently because things will get better in the “great beyond”.
God takes the side of the poor
Blessed are the poor is the one beatitude that sums up all the rest. Jesus called the poor blessed because he was announcing to them that God was on their side, and because the poor, once they were convinced that God was really concerned about their misery, would unite among themselves and would cease to be poor. Jesus did not call the poor “blessed” because they behaved well or because they put up with their misery without complaining. He called them “blessed” simply because they were poor. The good news that he announced to them was that they were God’s favorites, not because they were morally good, but because they were poor. God, as the Just One, wants there to be justice on earth, and he passionately wants poor people to escape from their poverty.
The poor and the poor “in spirit”
There has been much speculation and argument about who the poor people were that Jesus was referring to in the beatitudes. The text of Luke (Luke 6,20-26) speaks simply of “the poor”, while that of Matthew (Matthew 5,1-12) speaks of “the poor in spirit”. Luke is drawing on an earlier, more primitive tradition than is Matthew. The poor people whom Jesus addressed were those who really had nothing, those who really suffered hunger. Matthew’s later version, which speaks of the “poor in spirit”, recalls phrases that had been used by the Old Testament prophets, who spoke of the “humble spirit” of the “anawim” (poor people).
The Hebrew word “anawim” had the basic meaning of “distressed, defenseless, desperate”; it referred to men and women who knew they were in God’s hands because they were rejected by the powerful; they were the people who were marginalized both by the temple-based religion and by the imperial political system. While Luke stresses the aspect of external oppression, Matthew highlights the aspect of interior distress experienced by those suffering that external oppression. Neither of them, however, speaks of “rich people who are poor in spirit”.
Matthew and Luke were writing for different publics. The communities for which Luke wrote were made up mainly of men and women oppressed by the powerful structures of the Roman empire: slaves, people living in cities with enormous social differences, people worn down by the harsh conditions of their lives. Matthew wrote for Jewish communities which were still being tempted by Pharisaic tendencies, which made them believe that the only good people were those who were “decent”, those who observed the law strictly. For Matthew the “poor of spirit” were those considered sinners, that is, people whom the “righteous” would look upon as immoral or disreputable.
Despite their different approaches, both evangelists wanted to point out the prophetic dimension of Jesus’ words: God bestows his Kingdom on the poor of the world. On the really poor. The message of Jesus as stated in the beatitudes was a truly revolutionary one in the history of religions. Besides stating that moral norms were not of great importance as criteria for God’s benevolence, Jesus was announcing that in the world’s historic conflicts God was most definitely on the side of those at the bottom.
One poor person among many
Jesus was poor, as poor as the neighbors to whom he was announcing the beatitudes. Jesus was not a religious teacher who “became poor”, who feigned poverty, so that poor people would understand him better, nor was he trying to be a sign of divine condescension toward those who lived in misery. Such an idea betrays the very essence of the Christian message, which affirms that Jesus was a poor man from the rural village of Nazareth, who spoke to us of God in a loud and clear voice, establishing beyond a doubt that if justice is not done to the poor there can be no real knowledge of God. Jesus taught us that it is not “outside the church” that “there is no salvation”, but “outside the poor”. (See this central idea of the gospel developed in the essay “Outside the poor there is no salvation”, written by the Salvadoran theologian Jon Sobrino; the text may be found at www.envio.org.ni.)