Man’s Aversion to Poverty
Throughout history, there have been many explanations of the existence of poverty. Poverty is sometimes seen as the just wrath of God for a particular people’s sinfulness. Some see the poor as parasites seeking a free ride on the productive class. Some see poverty as a failing of human society to provide the means and opportunities for the poor.
Regardless of the reason poverty exists, modern man has a great aversion to poverty. Governments focus on economic growth and social safety nets, seeking to win the “war on poverty”. Vast taxes are collected and redistributed and charitable organizations plead for money to give to the poor. Many people battle against poverty by feeding the poor, going on mission trips or volunteering in homeless shelters. There is a hope that somehow poverty can somehow be eradicated like a disease, reduced or at least conveniently kept out of plain sight to reduce the guilt of the prosperous.
Instead of poverty, the modern culture embraces a wholesale pursuit of over-the-top material prosperity. In the secular society, lives are mortgaged to the hilt in order to consume like the prosperous, to support an unsupportable level of consumption. Every appetite is catered to in “supersize” fashion, be it the amount of food consumed, the size and finish of homes lived in, the cars driven, the entertainment and thrills pursued, the alcohol and drugs consumed or the pornography viewed. In some religious movements, a “prosperity gospel” is excitedly preached, a false belief that God’s whole point of creating humans is so they can be materially prosperous; the idea of “abundance” is twisted into irrational materialism.
Clearly, the modern world has an insatiable ambition for prosperity and an fearful aversion to poverty.
Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Poverty
In stark contrast, Jesus Christ, in the Incarnation, fully embraces poverty.
Rather then coming in material riches worthy of God, Jesus wholly embraces poverty. Stooping from the unimaginable infinity of His Divinity, God takes on the limiting poverty of humanity in the Incarnation. Jesus stoops to the lowest entry point of humanity, bypassing earthly riches and power, coming as a helpless child born to a young woman and an earthly father who is a “backwoods” carpenter. Jesus, the God of the Universe, allows Himself to be further bound in swaddling clothing, helpless and poor. His early life is spent on the run as a refugee in Egypt.
When He launches His public ministry, Jesus lives a life that embraces poverty. After His baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness, living as a starving person might, without food for forty days. He lives the life of a poor itinerate preacher, walking on foot for thousands of miles and often sleeping outdoors. He lives with the poor, heals the poorest of the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers and the possessed. He lives like the homeless, saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). Jesus tells the rich young man to give away all his possessions and to follow Him (Luke 18:22). He applauds the destitute widow who, even in her poverty, gives a penny to the Jewish treasury (Mark 12:42-44). Prior to Holy week, Jesus spends time in Bethany (from the Aramaic, meaning “The House of Poverty”). Jesus dies like a common criminal, stripped bare, beaten and hung on the Cross and watches the soldiers gamble for His robe, His one material possession (John 19:23-24).
There can be no denying that Jesus Christ embraces poverty and that “poverty” is one of the core messages in the Gospel; Jesus preaches a Gospel of Poverty. Jesus comes to “preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). “Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross, He experiences hunger, thirst and privation” (CCC 544).
Jesus Christ, in His Divine Genius, identifies and becomes the very embodiment of His Gospel message through His embrace of poverty.
What Jesus Teaches – The Point of His Poverty
How do we reconcile the great abundance of life that Jesus promises with His purposeful embrace of poverty?
The definition of poverty – Poverty comes from the Latin, pauper “poor,” perhaps a compound of paucus “little” and parare “to get”. In the Beatitudes, the word “poor” comes from the Aramaic word ányâ (or Hebrew ani) meaning, “bent down, afflicted, miserable”. Those in poverty get little, are bent down, afflicted and miserable.
Mankind must realize its complete dependence on God – The first words of Jesus’ first sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) are:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). In this phrase, Jesus articulates both man’s helpless state and the foundational motivation that man must seek salvation. We are all paupers, “bent over”, “getting little” and “afflicted” in a life that is only material, for we all suffer pain, illness and eventually death. When we acknowledge “the spirit”, that we are more then material, we must also acknowledge that we are trivial paupers compared to our awesome God. Jesus teaches that those who accept that God exists and that all humans have a radical dependence on God, are the “poor in spirit”. In this realization of spiritual poverty, man opens himself up to the Salvation of Christ in the promise of heaven. “The kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly, which means those who have accepted it with their humble hearts” (CCC 544).
Idolizing wealth draws mankind away from God – Over and over, Jesus makes it clear that the idolization and pursuit of wealth leads to death. He teaches that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). Christ teaches that we must “practice the virtue of temperance, so as to moderate attachment to the world’s goods” (CCC 2407). He tells us, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24).
Jesus’ poverty inspires us to love the poor – In His complete embrace of poverty, Jesus Christ becomes poverty. “Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Humble shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty, heaven’s glory was made manifest” (CCC 525). He identifies with the poor, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Matt 25:45). “The Lord asks us to love as He does…and [to love] the poor as Christ Himself” (CCC 1825). We are to serve “the poor and suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder” (CCC 786). Jesus teaches that all people, even the poorest of the poor, are worthy of respect and are worthy of love. If we are to love and follow Jesus Christ, we must love the poverty of Jesus Christ and we must love those whom Jesus Christ loved: the poor.
Jesus’ example of poverty prepares us to be disciples – In life, there is hardship and in being disciples we must be prepared for pain. Jesus teaches, “by His poverty He calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way” (CCC 520). “All Christ’s faithful are to live with the ‘spirit of evangelical poverty’” (CCC 2546). As the Body of the Christ, each of us in the Church are “urged on by the Spirit of Christ [and] must walk the road Christ himself walked, a way of poverty and obedience” (CCC852).
The words and acts of Jesus compel us to serve the poor – Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:32-46) that man’s ultimate fate is decided by how they respond to His call to serve the poor. “Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guest, for the sick and the poor.” (CCC 2405). “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them.” (CCC 2443). But we must also seek to serve the poor, by meeting their spiritual starvation: “When the poor have the good news preached to them it is a sign of Christ’s presence.” (CCC 2443).
In poverty, all men are dependent on the Eucharist – The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith (CCC 1324). At the core of Jesus’ genius of the Eucharist is the truth that all men are beggars, paupers, starving before God. In the Prodigal Son, the Prodigal, starving after wasting his inheritance and becoming a pauper competing with swine for food, returns to his father and a feast of the fatted calf (Luke 15:11-32). “The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To Receive in Truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.” (CCC 1397). All men are starving, hungry because of the emptiness of life without God. All men are spiritually in poverty, spiritually starving. All men need a Savior, all men need to be fed with bread from heaven. In the miracles of feeding the masses and in the establishing of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus drives home the point that all men are ultimately dependent on the Bread of Life for their salvation from spiritual desolation.
The Descent into Dirt
The Church teaches that Satan was full of Pride and rebelled against God, causing God to cast Satan and his angels out of Heaven and into Hell (CCC 391-92). Still full of rebellious Pride, Satan slithered into Eden and seduced Eve (and Adam) to join in rebellion against God (Gen 3:5). God’s response to the Sin of Pride was definitive: Satan was cursed and deemed the enemy of Man; Adam and Eve were to live with pain, toil and death. Rather than immortality, Man was to “return to dust” (Gen 3:19); turning to dust is the ultimate lesson in humility (from the Latin, humus, meaning, “of the soil”). Pride remains the first of the Capital Sins/Vices (CCC 1866) leading Man to envy and resent God (CCC 2094, 2540).
Modern Man’s Empty Chest-thumping
Modern culture is infected with the insanity of the “Enlightenment”: the prideful rejection of God and the embrace of radical individualism/selfishness. The prideful rejection of God infects Man with all kinds of schemes to attempt to find happiness: the false political “progressivism” that promises an earthly Utopia (literally, “no place”), insatiable capitalism, the reliance on technology and science to solve all the ills of society, the rejection of sexual morality (e.g. rejection of marriage, contraception, abortion, the acceptance of homosexuality/same sex “marriage”, transgenderism, etc.) and the totalitarian use of government to enforce pluralism/relativism to the point where nothing is sacred. Man’s pride threatens the very peace of the world (CCC 2317).
Like gorillas in the wild, Modern Man thumps on empty chests in prideful display that cries out “Look at me!”: conspicuous consumption (clothing, cars, McMansions), body adornment (tattoos, strange hair and cosmetics), exhibitionism (Facebook, Twitter), the scandalous antics and self-promotion of politicians, celebrities, “comedians” and athletes. In the modern mind, Humility is not a virtue.
The Humility of Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ demonstrates the perfection and power of humility in the Incarnation.
Descends to become the Son of Man – As the Divine Son of God from the beginning (John 1:1), Jesus demonstrates the ultimate humility by becoming Man, emptying Himself (Phil 2:7), taking the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-7) and willingly accepting the constraints of human learning (CCC 472). As the “Perfect Man”, Christ’s whole life is the model for Man to follow in holiness (CCC 520).
Chooses to be Incarnate to humble parents – Rather than the pride of Eve (Gen 3), Virgin Mary becomes the “New Eve” (CCC 411) in the humility of “the handmaiden of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). God chooses Joseph, a carpenter, who humbly accepts and defends the pregnant Mary (Matt 1:18-25), accepts celibacy in marriage (CCC 499) and raises Jesus as his own son.
Embraces humble circumstances – Jesus is born in a humble manger (Luke 2:1-7), has no earthly pedigree (money, political, scholarly credentials), lives in poverty (Luke 9:58) and associates with the lowliest of sinners (Matt 9:10-13) and outcasts (Matt 8:2-4).
Submits to the Baptism – Despite being without Sin (CCC 536), Jesus humbly accepts Baptism in solidarity with Man (Matt 3:13-17); each Christian is called “to enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance” (CCC 537).
Allows Satan to attempt temptation – With the humility of perfect love and in solidarity with Man, Jesus allows Satan to tempt Him, refraining from destroying Satan: in the desert (Luke 4:1-12) and perhaps in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46; CCC 612).
Rejects earthly accolades – The Jews expected the Messiah to be a royal king to eradicate Roman oppression. Instead, Jesus refuses earthly kingship (John 6:15) and human glory (John 5:41).
Embraces humility in the Passion – Jesus enters Jerusalem on a lowly donkey (Matt 21:1-10). He washes the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He bows to the Father’s Will in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46) and willingly (CCC 272) allows the Jews and Romans to insult (mocking an spitting), torture and kill Him by scandalous Crucifixion (Matt 26-27) while asking the Father to forgive His persecutors from the Cross (Luke 23:34).
Jesus Christ explicitly directs Man to embrace humility and to reject pride.
Condemns the sin of pride – Jesus opposes the proud (Jas 4:6) including the Pharisees (Matt 9:10-13), Pilate (John 19:10-11), Herod (Luke 23:9), and admonishes the proud ambitions of the Apostles (Matt 20:20-28, Luke 22:24-27, Mark 9:35).
Directs Man to be humble – Humility is at the core of the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12); “poor in spirit”, “the meek” and “the merciful.” He teaches that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matt 23:12), to take the lowest seat at the table (Luke 14:7-11) and to be a servant to all (Luke 22:26), even a slave (Mark 10:42-45). Jesus instructs the leaders of the Church and all Christians to be humble (Matt 18:1-4) and in self-denial to take up the Cross (Matt 16:24-26; Rom 8:17).
Demonstrates that humble dependence on God can defeat temptation – Even though weakened by a 40-day fast, Jesus rejects Satan’s temptations by calling on the Father (Luke 4:1-12). He again defeats Satan’s temptation in Gethsemane (Luke 22:53; CCC 612).
Clarifies that humility is mandatory for Salvation – Jesus teaches that a humble repentant heart is necessary for justification (Luke 18:9-14; CCC 1446; see Reconciliation: CCC 1442-1498) that the humility of a child is a pre-requisite for Heaven (Matt 18:4).
Promises the fruits of humility – Jesus teaches that the humble will inherit the earth (Matt 5:5; CCC 1716), will enjoy eternal salvation (Matt 18:1-3) and enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:6; CCC 1746, 2546).
Teaches Man to pray with humility – Jesus teaches Man to pray the humble “Our Father” (Matt 6:9-13), each section requiring humility: submitting to God as “Father”, “hallowing” His name, accepting God’s will, begging for “daily bread” and forgiveness (a sign of humility – CCC 2631) and protection from temptation and the Evil One. Man must embrace humility to draw closer to the Trinity in prayer (CCC 2713, CCC 2728).
Endows the Church with humility – The Apostles embrace humility: Peter: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5); James: “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (James 4:10); St. Paul “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). All the martyrs and saints have embraced humility.
“Sacrifice” – L. from sacrificus “performing priestly functions or sacrifices,” from sacra “sacred rites.”
“Heroic” – L./Gk. Heros “man of superhuman strength or courage,” “demi-god”, “defender, protector”, “to save, preserve, protect, watch over.”
The Heroic Sacrifice of Jesus
- Infinite lowering of Himself in the Incarnation – The Eternal Word pre-exists with infinite existence and ability. The Creator sacrifices to become man, a heroic action to save all mankind from sin (John 3:16). He forgoes heaven to take on the pain/suffering of human life.
- Incarnation into poverty and chaos – He is born as a vulnerable little baby into poverty in the ‘backwaters’ of Galilee, the son of a carpenter, during the political domination of Jews by Romans and Herod, tyrannical puppet king.
- Jesus remains obedient to Mary and Joseph – The Genius of Jesus is evident at the age of 12 when He astounds the priests and scribes at the Temple with His Wisdom (Luke 2:41-52). Despite his superiority, He remains heroically obedient to his earthly parents for another 18 years.
- Submits to Baptism by John – Despite being God and without sin, Jesus allows Himself to be identified with sinners when He lowers Himself to be baptized by John (Matt 3:13-17), heroically sacrificing His rightful place of being without sin for the sake of mankind.
- Undergoes suffering in the Wilderness when called by the Holy Spirit – Voluntarily sacrifices to go into the Wilderness without provisions for 40 days. After surviving this ordeal, resists Satan’s temptations and forces Satan to “be gone” (Matt 4:1-11). By doing this, Jesus connects symbolically with Israel’s history of trial in the desert and overcomes temptation.
- Chooses to live among the poor – Choosing men who appear to be unlikely leaders (e.g. fisherman, tax collector, without education, etc.), Jesus lives among the poor and rejects attempts to make Him king (John 6:15).
- Submits Himself to ridicule by sinners – Throughout His ministry, Jesus is repeatedly challenged, harassed and hunted by Jewish leaders who seek to kill Him. He does not yield.
- Jesus heroically reaches out to the “unclean” – After the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus touches and heals an unclean leper (Matt 8:1-4), heals the slave of a Centurion (enemy and Gentile) and exorcises a demoniac in Gentile lands (8:28-34). By doing so, Jesus willingly accepts being shunned and hated by many Jews.
- Jesus demonstrates heroic self-giving in His ministry – Jesus spends three years in a grueling ministry that is physically challenging, traveling long distances, working long hours with minimal comforts and constantly giving Himself to all who seek Him.
- Jesus confronts the dominant Jewish religious leaders with Scriptural Truth – Despite not having a “pedigree”, Jesus has a superior knowledge of Scripture (and God’s will). On multiple occasions, Jesus willingly teaches the ignorant and ungrateful Jewish leaders, despite consciously knowing they plan to kill Him.
- Heroically accepts the Cross – Despite the common knowledge of the brutality of crucifixion, and His own perfect knowledge of what He would endure, Jesus willingly submits to beating, scourging, taunting, humiliation and crucifixion. He sacrifices dignity, His righteous right to glory and His physical life. He endures the injustice and horror of being killed by His own children. He witnesses the betrayal and denial of those closest to Him. In His heroic Sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus takes on the sins of all men and redeems us (CCC 616-17).
- He courageously descends to Hell – After His brutal death, He is buried in the ground and then descends to Hell to free the just who had come before Him (CCC 633).
- He returns to love before the Ascension – Jesus foregoes heaven to returns to provide proof of His Resurrection and encouragement to His disciples (Lk. 24:13-53).
- He heroically continues to give Himself in the Eucharist– Jesus continues to return to give of Himself in the Real Presence of the Eucharist (CCC 1322-1419).