Blessed are…the salt of the earth
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In my early years, growing up in the north of England, I was conscious of something about myself that my kids have never had to think about.
I was part of the working class.
Above me were the middle class and above them there were people in the upper class. Below us were the unemployed and the homeless, but our family was near the bottom. That was where we fitted; as working class people, we didn’t count as much as middle class people.
Once upon a time, working class people were meant to stay working class. My dad did have aspirations to get us into the middle class; and we lived at a time in which kids like me, kids with the ability to pass exams, were at a great advantage because we were given a grammar school education.
If I were living in England now, I would have made it all the way up to the middle class by now.
We talk about the ‘middle class’ in Australia, but ‘working class’ is a phrase you don’t hear too often. Don’t be fooled; it still exists! We do talk about people who live in ‘low socio-economic areas’. That’s a whole mouthful of intelligent-sounding words. It sounds kinder than ‘working class’. Possibly it is—it feels that it should be easier to escape a ‘low socio-economic area’ than it would be to get out of the ‘working class’. But really, I have my doubts about that. People who are on the bottom tend to get ‘stuck’. They tend not to be noticed as much as the people who make ‘the news’.
In the first century, they didn’t talk about the working class, or about people living in low socio-economic areas. They spoke of ‘the poor’.
The Greek word Matthew uses for ‘poor’ is ptochos. The ptochoi were the lowest of the low. Much lower than English working class people. They were expendable (Rohr). They didn’t count. Jesus says, ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. It’s here and it’s now, because they get it.
So when Jesus says,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,
it comes as a shock.