I recently learned from a rabbi that in some traditions of Jewish thought, the poor and sick are seen as cursed, while the wealthy and healthy are seen as blessed.
But the rabbi was quick to point out—that’s not where it ends. There is more:
Because of their special status, the blessed are obligated to care for the cursed. The rich are required to give to the poor. The healthy are responsible for the sick. This is not a matter of choice. This is not optional. This is not extra credit. This is a mandate.
Spend some time with Old Testament law and you will see repeated provisions for taking care of the widow, welcoming the stranger, giving alms to the poor, forgiving debts, caring for the sick. And yet, among those so fond of quoting Leviticus, these laws get very little attention.
As in all cultures and belief systems, people have a tendency to overlook the inconvenient aspects-- the parts that require something of them. But as we see in the biblical witness —from the prophets, from the law, from the mouth of God—is the message, “this is not just about you.”
So along comes Jesus, knowing what God has asked of the people and seeing how they are failing miserably at it. First thing, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus has a sit down with the disciples what we usually refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” The crowd and the rest of us get to overhear as he begins with these radical words:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
It seems as if Jesus has turned the whole system of blessings and curses on their head. It seems as if he is throwing away centuries of teaching. But as Jesus is quick to say moments later in verse 17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
Jesus is taking it all even further because this is what he expects of his followers. He wants them to go overboard in living out their blessed responsibility. He wants them to live the commandments to the limit, and beyond. Keep reading and you’ll find:
Don’t murder? Don’t even insult a brother or sister.
An eye for an eye? Turn the other cheek, go the second mile, give to everyone who begs from you.
Love your neighbor? Love your enemy.
And when the followers over-do it, when they go all in, when they share in each and every one of their blessings so completely, so fully—that is when you can no longer tell who is blessed and who is cursed. That is when these ridiculous words come to be true. That is when the kingdom of heaven has come at last.