Blessed Are the Poor?

You have probably heard this saying of Jesus read many times perhaps in the course of your life. This Jesus saying comes from The Beatitudes, Jesus' Sermon On The Mount describing what his vision would be for the Kingdom Of God. Usually, when this text is read, there will further explanation that when Jesus talks about the poor here, he is referring to those who are poor in spirit, that they need to cast their cares upon God and that the Kingdom will be theirs. But this contradicts other Jesus sayings where Jesus says things like "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets." (Luke 6:24-26). So what are we to make of this ? Biblical scholars have argued that Jesus paid a lot of attention talking about the needs of the poor, it wasn't in the vein of some Dickensian syrupy voice saying " Blessed Are The Poor ", but rather there is a moral and ethical obligation to take care of those who are less unfortunate, to take care of the widows and the orphans.
Other than the most welcome and needed discussion regarding income inequality, there hasn't been a lot of discussion regarding poverty this election cycle thus far. The last discussion that we had about poverty as a nation was with Senator John Edwards during the 2008 Presidential election.
Yes, Jesus may have said "the poor will always be with you " but there has not been that much of a focus on the day to day reality of being on the lower tier of the economic strata.
Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer in their book " 2.00 A Day Living On Almost Nothing In America " ( 2015 ) have chronicled a disturbing picture of what has developed with poor people. Instead of financial assistance to the poor, we now have a jobless no-wage, no cash economy which is leaving already vulnerable people in a more precarious state.
According to Edin and Schaefer
" In 1996, welfare reform did away with a sixty-year old program that entitled families with children to receive cash assistance as long as they had economic need. It was replaced with a new welfare program, called Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) which imposes lifetime limits on aid and also subjects able-bodied adult recipients to work requirements. If they fail to meet these requirements, they risk being "sanctioned "-losing some or even all of their benefits.
At the old welfare program's height in 1994, it served more than 14.2 million people-4.6 million adults and 9.6 million children. In 2012, there were only 4.4 million people left on the rolls-1.1 million adults (about a quarter of whom are working ) and 3.3 million kids. That's a 69 percent decline. By Fall 2014, the TANF caseload had fallen to 3.8 million."
Now no doubt this pleased a lot of legislators. They could go back to their districts, and thump their chests with pride telling the electorate how tough and fiscally responsible they were. They could argue that they forced a lot of people to go back to work, even if it risked perpetuating the divide between the so-called worthy versus unworthy poor that emerged during the 19th century.
We now come to the reality described by Edin and Shaefer where we have significant populations of people living on $ 2.00 a day, who are suffering prolonged extended periods of unemployment and who are having to be very cunning and resourceful in trying to stay alive. We have increasing numbers of poor people who are selling blood plasma, trading sexual favors for food, selling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ( SNAP ) stamps for cash and incurring usually a forty percent loss due to usury on the part of brokers who facilitate the sale of SNAP booklets. There is also the increasing trade of those who forage and abscond with cooper and wire and pipe and sell it to salvage yards for ready cash. A church that I temporarily served during 2014 in San Antonio, TX was pillaged and plundered of its copper firing and cables by those who could sell it for cash assistance.
Now we have a situation where poor single mothers, many of whom are women of color, are having to commute two hours or more by public transportation in order even to get to a job or to a job interview. If they should have the misfortune of car trouble or a child's illness, they probably have a strong probability that they will lose their job and thus return again to the $ 2.00 dollar a day economy. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC ) can help you if you are working. But if you lose your job, you are back to this endless cycle of desperation and deficit.
What could be done to correct this disgraceful reality? First, SNAP resources for needy families should be increased, not decreased. But there also needs to be reinstated some type of cash assistance program. Food Stamps may get you food, but it won't pay the rent nor the electricity or the fuel bill, nor will it buy your children clothes. More job training programs along with assistance programs for transportation and childcare are needed if we hope to help poor people have sustainable employment for long periods of time.
Non-profit organizations including churches can do a lot more to assist and to be of help. Instead of hiding behind the mantel of "the poor will always be with you " and the illogical dichotomy of the worthy versus unworthy poor, they can step up to the plate and actually commit financial and other resources to help those who are in need including food, housing and employment assistance.
We can do a lot more to help people who are poor and to eradicate poverty. May this happen now and in the future.
May it be so.