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Are you poor or rich?

Il_figliol_prodigo“Who are the poor? What does it mean – as the Luke’s Gospel says – to preach good news (Luke 4:18) to such people? These are important questions for Luke, since they stand at the head of Jesus’ missionary selfunderstanding.

Our tendency today is to define “the poor” economically, on the scale of annual household income or with reference to an established, national or international poverty line. But this is only another reflection of our tendency to read our own world back into Luke’s …

In fact, according to texts like Lev 21:16-24, within the community of priests status was measured above all by ascription, not performance. First, no one chose to be a priest, but was born into a priestly family. Second, numerous genetic “defects” could result in exclusion from priestly status: Blemish, Blind, Lame, Mutilated Face/Limb, etc. …

There are similar lists in Luke, but their purpose is far different. Whereas these priestly texts list those who are impure and of low status because of disability so as to exclude them, Luke presents such lists in order to indicate the very people who should be included. In fact, seven of the ten occurences of the word “poor” (in greek ptochòs) in Luke appear in lists of this nature (cf. Lk 4:18 poor, captive, blind, oppressed; 6:20 poor, hungry, mournful, persecuted; 7:22 blind, lame, leper, deaf, dead, poor; 14:13; 14:21; 16:20,22). In each case “poor” stands at the head of the list, expcept in 7:22, where it appears in the final, emphatic position.

“Poor” thus interprets and is amplified by the others. Apparently, Luke is concerned above all with a category of people ordinarily defined above all by their dishonorable status, their esclusion. This insight is underscored by the use of the vocabulary of wealth in the Third Gospel … Perhpas most interesting is 14:12: “rich neighbors” are listed with one’s “inner circle” – friends, brothers, kin – persons with whom one enjoys relationships of equality and mutuality. Like “poor”, then, “rich” is not simply an economic term; it is related to issues of power and privilege, and social location as an insider”.

“Preaching good news to the poor”, then, entails a focus for Jesus’ministry on overturning previous measures of status. … people are not to be predetermined as insider or outsiders by their sex, family heritage, financial position … religious purity, and so on. The message of Jesus is that such status markers are no longer binding. Anyone may freely receive the grace of God. Anyone may join the community of Jesus’ followers. All are welcome”.(From Joel B. Green, The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, Cambridge 1995, pp. 79-82).

According to Joel B. Green – a very famous biblical scholar – anyone can be “poor”. The Gospel of Luke amplify the concept of “poor”, so that even rich people can be poor. In fact even a rich person can be oppressed, mournful, deaf, blind, outsider and so on. Anyone can be “rich” if freely receive the grace of God!

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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