He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)
“You’d be surprised to know who my most reliable clients are,” my friend Adam explained to me over lunch one day. As a public defender and longtime friend, he was catching me up on a handful of upcoming trials, including one involving a fifty-something man whose most recent home address was under an overpasses one mile from the White House. During the day, the man shuffled through the city’s libraries and rode the subway until the train’s operator kicked him off. On Tuesdays, he showered at a local church. Having heard stories of clients failing to appear at trial, I casually replied to his update: “Well, good luck with that one. Do you think he’ll actually show up?”
“Absolutely,” my friend said. “I never have to worry about my clients who are homeless. They’re always there and they’re always on time.” After pausing a moment, he continued, “Being in court is the only time they actually hear someone call them by their name.”
Speechless, my cheeks burned. How many of us keep track of the people who look us in the eye and call us by our name? Few of us who call ourselves Christians would deny that those without homes are children of God. Still, we often regard them as one among many—a statistic or social issue—not a person, not a child, not a lover, not a friend. It’s easier to blame them for their circumstances instead of looking at our own privilege and systems that have fostered such deep inequality.
When Jesus declared, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” he wasn’t romanticizing poverty or glossing over its harsh realities. He was shattering the authority of one’s economic and social status to defines one’s worth. In essence, Jesus was saying to them: “Your poverty is not the essence of your being. I see you. I know you. You matter. You belong.”
Maybe it’s the rest of us—those of us feeling confident in our ability, our circumstance, and our financial future, who finally need to show up, look people in the eye, and see what God has always seen: immeasurable worth.
This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.