Sunday, January 3, 2010

Luke versus Matthew

Luke 6:20:
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:3:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew's version raises a question: "What does it mean to be poor 'in spirit'?" The answer's simple if you look at what Jesus says elsewhere about wealth and poverty. From Matthew 19:21:
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
Luke cuts to the chase: The blessed are poor. Matthew tells how to become blessed if you're rich.

Matthew and Luke know that's hard for rich people to hear. Both of their stories about the rich young man, and Mark's as well, have Jesus's followers asking how any rich person could be saved. Jesus answers that with God, all things are possible. Greedy people say this means God will perform special miracles for them to save them. But Jesus is only noting that some rich people, upon thinking about God and people and justice and happiness, will understand that we find the way to heaven by sharing freely.

Bonus link: Eye of a needle in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.


  1. My exegesis of the story of the rich young man goes like this: The story doesn't tell us what the rich young man does, except that he walks away sorrowing. So that leaves us with at least two possibilities: (1) He's sorrowing because he won't give up his wealth and so he thinks he won't get into heaven (as a Universalist, I tend to dismiss this possibility); or (2) He's sorrowing because Jesus has convinced him, he's going to go out and get rid of his wealth, and he's (appropriately) grieving that loss -- but he gives it all away anyway, knowing that in the end he will get more, even if it will be as difficult as getting through the eye of a needle. I like this second possibility -- it sounds more like the Jesus I'm familiar with, the one who's all up in your face, telling you that yes you can be a better person than you are now if you'll just go ahead and be better.

    So my vote is that Matthew's version is actually more in your face than Luke: with God, all things are possible, including the possibility that rich people will willingly give up their wealth in order to redistribute the wealth. Now that would be heaven on earth. Whereas in my reading, Luke keeps it all conveniently abstract -- hey, the poor are cool, blessed are the poor, and we don't really need to do anything about it here and now.

  2. Dan, I may believe in a sneakier Jesus, 'cause I'm also a Universalist. If #1, Jesus has simply given him the best option ("perfect") and hasn't told him that the lesser choices ultimately work too.

    #2 is interesting regarding Matthew, but I don't get that feeling from Luke, maybe because Luke keeps hammering the rich. He opens with the most kickass Baptist to establish that: if you've got two, give one to someone with none. That's very here and now.

  3. My reading of this is as follows: the young man asks Jesus how to get eternal life; Jesus tells him; still the young man is not satisfied. Clearly the young man is troubled, he's just not satisfied, he's seeking perfection, Jesus tells him - okay, you're seeking perfection? Here's the deal to get perfection, then you can come follow me - this again makes the young man sorrowful, then Jesus explains it's harder for the rich man to enter heaven...I think the reason it's harder for the rich man is not because he is rich but because there is more of a tendency amongst the rich to be so attached to their riches they can't even let go to seek out their true satisfaction; also, the poor in spirit could be describing someone who is so down that they are now ready to surrender and seek out their own salvation.


  4. #1 Although not mentioned here, it's a debated topic in many forums, that Jesus is not God, The Creator, himself, so...

    Based on Mathews 19:16 where it says the he (the young man) came unto him (Jesus) saying, "Good Master, what good things shall I do that I may have eternal life?". Jesus' reply [Mathews 19:17] was why do you call me "good". There is none good but one, that is, God .....if Jesus were God then he would have not replied with these words. It wouldn't make sense, if he were in fact "the one" God.

    This was for people who are confused about Jesus being one of 3 parts of God or whatever particular theory certain intellects try to enforce, in those regards. Again, Jesus is not God.

    #2 Jesus said that it is harder for rich man to get to Heaven than it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. He did not say that it was impossible! in saying that with God, All things are possible doesn't mean that they'll be a miracle for the greedy, but that there is a way for a rich man to get into Heaven....and it may just be what he said to the young man - to sell what he has and give to the poor. While that may be hard for a rich man to bear... Maybe even harder than getting through the eye of needle, if in God he is truly seeking life, he may have it through the way that God provides. It's not a miracle ticket for the greedy, where they get to continue to be greedy and selfish. It's through giving and charity, but most of all TRUST IN GOD.

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