“Blest are you poor. … but woe to you rich.” These powerful words, recorded for us by Luke, offer many avenues for thought. Today’s liturgy places them in the context of Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1, and thus connects them with the search for happiness.
Poverty is wretched. It means physical suffering, psychological anguish, financial insecurity, cultural disparagement, political powerlessness, and social scorn. Affluence is wonderful. It means physical comfort, financial security, political power, social and cultural acceptability, and at least the possibility of psychological health.
Yet Jesus used the word blest when speaking of the poor, and he used the word woe when speaking of the rich. Obviously he saw some kind advantage to being poor, and some kind of disadvantage to being rich.
What truth was he expressing? That poverty keeps one open to one’s need for God? That riches turn one’s heart away from God? That happiness is found closer to poverty than to wealth?
From a Christian perspective, who is to be pitied, the poor or the rich?
All of us must examine our way of living in light of the needs of the poor. Christian faith and the norms of justice impose distinct limits on what we consume and how we view material goods. The great wealth of the United States can easily blind us to the poverty that exists in this nation and the destitution of hundreds of millions of people in other parts of the world. Americans are challenged today as never before to develop the inner freedom to resist the temptation constantly to seek more.
U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All, 1986: 75.