Uniform 01.12.2014: Pope Francis and the Beatitudes

Luke 6:17-31

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013Since his election and installation in March, Pope Francis has continually shocked the world with his concern for the poor. He has spoken out against economic inequality, and he has paid special attention to the least fortunate in society. He invited homeless men to the Vatican on his birthday. And rumors have cropped up that the Pope leaves the Vatican at night, wearing street clothes, to minister to the poor.

But more than reaching out to the least of these, Pope Francis shows his commitment to economic equality in his own living: “He lives not in the papal palace surrounded by courtiers but in a spare hostel surrounded by priests. […] He has retired the papal Mercedes in favor of a scuffed-up Ford Focus. No red shoes, no gilded cross, just an iron one around his neck” (Gibbs).

The Pope’s new, humble approach to his office was the primary reason that he was selected as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013. Pope Francis has captured the imagination of the world by demonstrating that Christians should be concerned with economic issues. While the Pope’s lifestyle is noteworthy, he is not the first to make economic inequality a priority. Jesus shows us his concern for the poor in the Beatitudes of Luke 6.

Many Christians are more familiar with Matthew 5’s version of the Beatitudes, in which Jesus lists nine groups of people who receive special care from God. This list focuses on those who are “poor in spirit” (5:3). Matthew includes “those who mourn,” “the meek,” “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” “the peacemakers,” and the “persecuted” (vv. 4-11).

Compared to this list of spiritual disadvantages, Luke’s Beatitudes are much grittier. In Luke, Jesus does not talk about “the poor in spirit” but the actual poor. Jesus expresses concern for those “who weep,” but he also includes people who “are hungry now” (v. 21). God is deeply concerned about the economically disadvantaged, Jesus tells us.

The biggest difference in Luke’s version comes in verses 24-26, when Jesus names groups who are not favored by God. “Woe to you,” Jesus says, “if you are rich, have a full belly, laugh, or are popular.” More than comforting those who need to know God is looking out for them, Luke’s Jesus challenges those who lead privileged lives to pay more attention to the less fortunate.

It is often easier for modern Christians to read Matthew’s version and ignore Luke’s. Those of us who live comfortable and privileged lives don’t want to be exempt from the blessings of the kingdom of God. By counting ourselves among the spiritually poor when we grieve or struggle with anxiety or depression, we feel like we are part of God’s favored group. But in Luke, Jesus is definitely speaking about economic injustice. He suggests that both poverty and wealth are conditions that are incompatible with the kingdom of God. For people with wealth, this is an uncomfortable message.

Pope Francis is a remarkable figure because he challenges us to acknowledge that wealth and privilege are not part of God’s kingdom. But rather than simply condemning those who are wealthy and privileged, the Pope offers us an example of how to live out the Beatitudes. By caring for the poor and living simple lives, we can participate in creating God’s kingdom on earth.

Discussion Prompters

1. Where do you fit in Jesus’ list of blessings and woes? How are you guilty of remembering Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes and ignoring Luke’s?
2. How can we follow Pope Francis’s example of becoming the kind of people who Jesus lists as blessed instead of those Jesus lists as cursed?
3. How might God be calling you to simpler living? How can we gently encourage others to live more simply?
4. What actions can you take to care for the poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the persecuted? How can we help others even when we need help ourselves?

Resources

Jeff Deeney, “Serving the Poor, Pope Francis-Style,” theatlantic.com, 19 December 2013.

Nancy Gibbs, “Pope Francis, The Choice,” time.com, 11 December 2013.

“Is Pope Francis Leaving Vatican At Night To Minister To Homeless?” huffingtonpost.com, 2 December 2013.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email