Thursday, 28 January 2010

Blessed are the poor?

According to a recent survey, the British are becoming more liberal – but only in some ways. While attitudes to living together and to homosexuality are much more accepting, our hostility to the poor in our society has increased. Moreover, another study just published reveals the gap between the richest and poorest in our society is greater than at any time since the Second World War. I think most of us are aware of , and maybe share , these prejudices ; casual and contemptuous references to "chavs" among young people underline the fact that becoming more liberal does not necessarily mean we are more caring. Do we lose our prejudices, or do we just find another target for our prejudice, dislike and the frisson we can feel when we consider ourselves superior to others?
For Christians the news that we feel little shame about our prejudice against the poor should give grave cause for concern. The bible is full of fairly dire warnings against wealth and our tendency to respect those who possess it over those who do not.
In Luke we are told that the poor are blessed–“for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs”, although there is some debate as to whether "the poor" in Luke really refers to the economically impoverished or more to a state of mind, as in Matthew. What is clear is that these definitions of what it is to be blessed fly in the face of worldly wisdom and they do really challenge us. What I think is most challenging about the Beatitudes is not just the “blessed are the...” parts but the rewards that we are told will be given to those such as the poor and meek.
I particularly like the depiction of the Sermon on the Mount in Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the fantastic line, “Oh, that's nice, the meek are going to get something. I am glad, cos they do have a hell of a time – the meek.” This patronising, sentimental attitude does of course miss the point; what the meek and the poor are going to inherit is not a little something to make it up to them, but the heart’s desire of the rich and powerful – to rule over the earth and gain an everlasting Kingdom.
Many of us would rightly hesitate to say that the poor are “blessed”- at least in this world - as this can seem trite in the face of the detrimental effects of poverty to peoples’ prospects and mental and physical health. Matthew 5 renders the verse as “blessed are the poor in spirit” – again an idea which contradicts our accepted wisdom but which can at least be understood as meaning a poverty, or humility of heart and mind, an attitude that understands its need for God and finds its treasure in things the world despises.
Above is the scene on the Sermon on the Mount – or rather the mishearing of it – shown in Life of Brian. I actually think that this film, despite being seen by some as blasphemous, offers a wonderful satire of religion, with particularly challenging ideas for Christians. It is also just funny – so enjoy!


  1. We have a Sermon on the Mount series of talks during Lent - you could lurk at the back and heckle!

  2. I have been meaning to give you a visit. In fact I was talking to Kev about where your church actually is the other day:)

    I might lurk, I rarely heckle as I am actually far too polite. Are you giving any of these talks - or are you a lurker or heckler?

  3. I usually heckle from near the front! No I'm not doing much preaching at the mo - the rota is here that's on *this* machine - you probably need to know who is there to decode the initials but it does give the readings so you'll know when to bring some Stinking Bishop (for Matt 5). The church's weblog - need to do some updating!! - gives at least an address.