Because Jesus was Jewish, poor, and existed in a subjugate and oppressed society, He understood the world differently than most of us do through the lens of our high-achieving first-world nation of religious freedom, wealth, opportunity, and dominance in multiple realms. His most famous speech, The Sermon on the Mount, began with acknowledging those who suffer and sacrifice—people who grew up as He did. Most of us can hardly relate. To be Jewish meant to be chosen; as much as it was a spiritual privilege, it was also a sentence to suffer, or at least make notable sacrifice.
Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit, those who do not boast or claim victory or promote their own cause but who look out and care for the little ones, the forgotten ones, those discarded or disenfranchised. He spoke of peacemakers, not those who just seek the absence of war and conflict in tense or volatile circumstances but those who seek the presence of God and His love. He spoke of the pure of heart, the persecuted, the lowly and insulted, those who suffer loss and mourn, who pray and weep, who show mercy as a means to becoming more godly, and those who hunger and thirst for justice—getting right with one another and with God. He spoke to people of a different time and place from us.
Yet, Christ also speaks to us, in our time and in our place, with these same words. Though not persecuted or subjugated as those living under powerful foreign rule in first century Israel, we experience moments of union with the chosen ones, those who know the core of Christ’s passion and love because they touch it through their own suffering. Whether bouts of hunger, deep debt, immense loneliness, or heartbreak over the death of someone we deeply love, we have touched the kind of blessedness that Jesus voices.
It is no wonder that Jesus challenged hierarchical powers of His time for leveling mandates, dictums, and rubrics for teaching the faith, worshipping God, or interacting with others. These things don’t add up to much in comparison with what is truly important. Pope Francis understands this and was elected, in part, to deal with matters in our church that have gone askew from the Beatitudes; he was charged to reform the Vatican bank and numerous other offices and systems, including how saints are made and annulments are granted, which have historically involved lots of power, politics, and money. In saying that he longs for a poor church that is for the poor, the pope invites us to touch the Beatitudes—the attitude of being like Christ. When we do, we understand better our own purpose and we also become chosen. A wise mentor once suggested to me and others that among our five closest companions should be one who is poor (materially, mentally, spiritually, poor from loss, from victimization, etc.).
No one chooses to be poor, sorrowful, outcast, reliant, or helpless, but all Christians desire to imitate Jesus. We can do so by accompanying those who are oppressed, unfortunate, or downtrodden. There are many; we encounter them nearly every day. As we walk with them, let us be reminded that we are walking with Christ.