In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says these words,
“Blessed are you who are poor…Woe to you who are rich…” (Luke 6:20,24).
Unlike the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, there is no reference to “in spirit.” So is Jesus proclaiming blessing or woe depending purely on our financial status? Or should we treat these terms spiritually?
There is evidence that we should seek a spiritual meaning for these words. In Luke 4 Jesus reads what is essentially his manifesto from Isaiah 61. He has come to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoners. Prisoners must clearly be a spiritual term- so far as we know Jesus didn’t empty Roman prisons. And to argue that all the poor are blessed and all the rich are condemned pushes the evidence of the Gospel too far.
At the same time though I am wary of spiritualizing this too far. Because the reality is that wealth is presented as a great danger in the Gospel. Consider the evidence:
You have the Parable of the Rich Fool (unique to Luke) who ends up being a fool for concentrating on storing up wealth and ignoring God.
The demands of wealth mean that some people refuse the invitation to the Great Banquet (whilst the poor, the crippled and the blind will come in)
The rich ruler refuses to sell his property and give to the poor- and rejects Jesus in the process.
The key chapter on money in Luke’s Gospel is chapter 16. It is there that we find Jesus saying that it is impossible to serve both God and money. Note that it isn’t simply wrong- it is impossible. If you love money you will not love God. And the consequence of loving money is then graphically illustrated with the rich man who ignores the needs of poor Lazarus ending up in hell.
An obsession with money can keep you out of the Kingdom just as much as religious pride.
So what should be done with money?
In short we are to be trustworthy with it. “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11). Interestingly that follows on from the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (also unique to Luke). The punchline of that parable is clear- use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. In the light of eternity the most sensible thing to do with money is not to hoard it ourselves but to use it to bless others.
Where do we find the power to do that? After all wealth and possessions have a hold on us. It is through the grace of Jesus. It is the lavish generosity of Jesus that frees us up to be lavishly generous to others. That’s what Zacchaeus found. Overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus was interested in him he gives away half his possessions to the poor. It’s not the only biblical connection between grace and giving- see 2 Corinthians 8.
Money can be dangerous. It can give us a sense of contentment and self-sufficiency that ignores God. But when in poverty we recognize our need of God then his grace gives us the power to use money as a gift from Him to bless others.