The Gospels tell of the anawim, a group of poor people constituted by the humble of heart who know that all that they have, all that they are comes from God.
The model of the humble comes from the Psalmist who raises his prayer to God because there is no one else to whom he can turn: “The agreeable offering to God is a broken heart” (Ps 51:19). Still another passage reads, “The Lord heals those who have a broken heart (Ps 147:3). Then we ask why God would cure broken hearts if they were pleasing to Him? God responds that the one whom God loves is a man whose heart is broken but whose spirit is grace-filled; a man capable of bending his knees to learn how to stand upright before concluding that “Before God nothing is more perfect than a broken heart.”
Sophonias the prophet makes himself a poor man before God as a model of spirituality when he puts in the mouth of God the following promise: “I will leave in the midst of you a humble and weak people who will take refuge in the name of the Lord” (Zep 3:12). It is this understanding of poverty that Jesus is speaking about when He says in the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor of heart who have the heart of a poor man, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3).
Two Classes of Poor
Thus in the Bible there are two classes (as it were) of poor people: the indigent and the oppressed whose poverty is material on the one hand, and others who are humble of heart who have an interior poverty, who receive everything from God. In the Bible, God cares for these two categories of poor people but in a different way. He combats poverty which is misery even while He honors and loves interior poverty.
Misery is condemned because it crushes man and reduces him to degradation. It is in the name of this principle that it is said of the primitive Christians described in Acts 4:34, “There were no indigent among them.” If there are no indigent in the Church, there are those who compose the Church, namely, those who know that before God, they are only beggars of grace. They are the poor in spirit, the anawim, who expect everything from God. Both categories of poverty are clearly biblical. One is to be combated, the other revered.
In the Gospel of Luke 18:18-23 there appears a young nobleman who practiced the law with care but was very rich who is loved by Jesus. Jesus tells him clearly what is lacking in him: sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come follow me. The young man becomes saddened, walks away because he was very rich. He preferred his riches to following Jesus. Jesus gives this judgment: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus’ audience understands this very well: “Who then can be saved?” they ask. Jesus replies, “What is impossible for man is possible for God.” We must read this passage to the very end. In the text Jesus responds to Peter that those who have abandoned home and family for Christ will receive “in the world to come, eternal life.” And immediately after, when Jesus announces for the third time His passion, His disciples “did not understand what he was saying.” How could they, given their view of Messiah?
We must read this passage carefully because in the final analysis there is only one man who is truly poor. It is the one who is deprived of everything, who abandoned everything — his equality with God who emptied himself (Phil 2:7), who became a servant even unto death, the death on a cross, Jesus Christ. Out of love, there is gone everything He had including His life. “Being rich, He made himself poor so that by His poverty you may become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
God Has Need of Us
The poor man, who has nothing of his own, can only live with the help of others from whom he asks aid (i.e., the name of Lazarus El’ Azar, Eleazar = God, come in aid because the word ecor means help). Jesus chooses the place of extreme dispossession, the death of a criminal on a cross, which scandalizes the disciples even to this day. He quits this life, gives His life between two types of poor people, poor people whom no one could love, dirty, bestial and evil. He chooses to be there, begging only for a little vinegar. That is the price of love — completely disposed of everything but Himself. He gives all He has and asks for us in return.
Doing this for us, He asks our help, all of us, His friends. The poverty of God is that He has need of us, which is utterly incomprehensible. That is why He gave everything He had — His time, His affection, His life, His death. And He prepares a place for us with Him because He is Emmanuel, God with us. If Christ is all poverty it is because He is entirely gift, it is that He does not wait to become rich to give. He gave everything He had including what was due Him as divine in order to become like us in all things but sin. He became poor so we could become spiritually rich. Because He needs us, we can become “other Christs.”
‘Come to Me’
The whole history of Jesus — His incarnation, His life, His crucifixion and resurrection — is only a great cry of God to men: “Come to me.” If Christ has taken the place of poor Lazarus, He goes beyond that to all these events that the Gospel narrates. How so?
It is up to us now to take care of God, taking His place in our lives for others. We are alter Christs, other Christs, who inhabit us after the resurrection so that through our actions of goodness and love, we give to and for others that which become the goodness and love of Christ himself. It is the poverty of God, of Christ, who needs us to be himself to others.
“As long as you did it to one of these the least of my brothers, you have done it to me” (Mt 25). For those of us who are utterly poor, who have received everything from God and are utterly dependent on God, now the tables are reversed; Christ, the one who empties himself and is utterly poor, needs to be himself for others in us and through us.
We must empty ourselves to be filled with Christ so that we can bring others to Christ. We are ambassadors of Christ in and to the world. God needs us.
MR. RIGA, a retired attorney, writes from Houston, Texas.