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Lecture examines origin of “Blessed are the poor”

| Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Notre Dame law professor John Finnis posed the question, “Who Said, ‘Blessed are the Poor’?” in a lecture Friday at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture’s 15th Annual Fall Conference entitled “Your Light Will Rise in the Darkness: Responding to the Cry of the Poor.”

Finnis said the answer to the lecture’s titular question can be found by exploring the differences between the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

“The firm answer [to the question, who said, “Blessed are the Poor?”] is given by the Gospel [of] Luke,” Finnis said.

Finnis said Jesus clearly that addresses not only the poor, but also his disciples, when he compares the destitute and hungry to the rich.

“What [Jesus] promised the poor was not social justice,” Finnis said. “What he was — and is — holding out is the short hope of a place of Kingdom of God — not now, but as a great reward in heaven.”

Finnis said “blessed are the poor” with “blessed are the poor in spirit” are found in distinct accounts of the gospels.

“The Gospel according to Matthew describes similar blessings in the Beatitudes,” he said.  “Notice in his account that the poverty in the third and fourth Beatitudes are spiritual. Do not care for riches. Lay up your treasures in heaven. You cannot serve two masters in God and wealth.”

Luke cautions readers of his gospel about the vices wealth may spawn.

“In the context of warning, [Luke] cautioned against avarice,” Finnis said.  “… The poor in Luke’s straightforward sense is what the poor in spirit are to experience, that is the good news of the gospel — there is a treasure in heaven.

“So, did Jesus say, blessed are the ‘poor’ or ‘poor in spirit?’ The two evangelists are reporting the same sermon.  Both contain —in the same order — love your enemies, judge not others, but it seems clear one account is not derived from the other and they’re not from the same source.  Two different reports on one sermon.”

Finnis cited theologian John Chapman and said, “There is no reason to doubt that Jesus on inaugural sermon said both.”

“While Luke’s Beatitudes may represent the fiery, original words, Matthew spiritualized them, making them applicable to the spiritual needs of others,” Finnis said. “Gospels are not eyewitness testimonies all the time, but each evangelist has arranged the accounts to address the spiritual needs of the community they are a part of.

“One can forge a good argument from discontinuity for the core Beatitudes — in spirit can represent the Beatitudes in the communities. As for the other Beatitudes, they are parallel to the form and function of the work of Jesus.

“Those Beatitudes may be referred to be authentic.”

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About Kyle Witzigman

Kyle, of Springdale, Arkansas, is a junior political science major and constitutional studies minor. He lives in Morrissey Manor.

Contact Kyle