The assigned Gospel passage in our church for the Feast of All Saints’ Day is Matthew 5:1-12, AKA the Beatitudes. Sunday School kids are sometimes taught to refer to them as the Be-Attitudes, a useful misunderstanding of the term. Actually, the theological expression comes from the Latin beatus, -a, -um, meaning “blessed” or “saintly.” It’s a fitting concept, and Gospel passage, for All Saints’ Day.
The very first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:1, Good News Bible). This is a confusing statement, to say the least. Why should the spiritually poor get such an outsized reward? Unless, of course, the real meaning is blessed are those poor in material things but rich in spirit. Now to be sure, I don’t think poverty, especially the extreme variety, has much to recommend it. And I recall that the Social Gospel movement is all about helping the underprivileged have a materially sustainable life. We read in Acts 2:44-45, moreover, “All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed” (Good News Bible). Wow! Could our Holy Book possibly be pushing, ahem, socialism?! Along the same lines, Jesus after counseling the rich young man in Matthew 19 to sell his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow him, states, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24, NIV).
Now the United States, which tends to regard itself as a Christian country par excellence, seems rather defective in this regard. After all, our implied national motto is, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins!” The Almighty Dollar and the all-important bottomline hold sway in our capitalistic land where, according to a June 2017 report by the Boston Consulting Group, “around 70% of the nation's wealth will be in the hands of millionaires and billionaires by 2021” (Wikipedia, “Wealth Inequality in the United States”). No wonder Muslims refer to our country as the Great Satan, meaning not the red bad guy with horns and a tail but the King of the Underworld, the place of material riches. I remember having my incredulous freshmen-comp students at Queens College read J. Paul Getty’s essay stating it was no fun being a billionaire. After all, Getty, then the world’s richest person, wrote, he could never trust that anyone who was nice to him wasn’t really after his money. So, privileging the material over the spiritual may be good for the bottomline, but perhaps it shouldn’t be our top value.