How Is The Kingdom Good News For The Poor?

More from Gordon Fee:

A further implication for the global mission of the church rests with Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom as good news for the poor. We noted earlier that this includes both the traditional ‘poor’ of the OT (especially the helpless and defenseless) and the ‘poor’ in the larger sense of all who stand ‘impoverished in spirit’ in the presence of the eternal God, and thus become recipients of his grace and mercy. The beatitudes in Luke 6:20-21 and Matt. 5:3-10 capture these two emphases respectively. The tragedy of much subsequent church history is its tendency to function with a half canon (either Luke’s or Matthew’s version) with regard to these congratulatory words of Jesus. For some ‘the poor’ are only the ‘spiritually’ so, the sinners; for others, usually in reaction to the former, ‘the poor’ tend to become only the economically deprived. This unfortunate bifurcation quite misses the ministry of Jesus himself.

The OT basis for this language, of course, comes especially from the law, with the expressions of God’s concern for the helpless, lest they be neglected, or worse, taken advantage of by the rest. In a more agrarian society, the ‘poor’ are especially so with regard to the land. Thus, especially in Deuteronomy, they include both the obvious helpless – the widows and orphans – and the Levites and aliens as well, precisely because they had no direct access to ownership of the land. Thus throughout the entire OT, true piety expressed in terms of pleading the cause of the poor (see the magnificent explanation of this in Job 29:7-17; 31:5-8; 13:23), and unrighteousness is denounced in similar terms (see Amos, Isa 58). But at the same time, especially in the Psalms, the ‘poor’ are those who suffer misfortune of every kind, and include both the oppressed (Psa 9) and those who before God are conscious of their sins (Psa 32 and 51).

When Jesus, therefore, announced the good news to the poor, his proclamation was for those who were needy in every sense of the term. What is significant for our present concern are two items: First, our gospel is not simply that of ‘saving souls’; it is rather, as with Jesus, the bringing of wholeness to broken people in every kind of distress. Mission simply cannot be divided between ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical.’ To do one is to do the other, and both constitute the global mission of the church.

Second, and especially so in Luke’s gospel, the ‘poor’ to whom Jesus comes are represented by every kind of first-century outcast – the traditional poor, sinners, Samaritans, Gentiles and women. Luke, himself a Gentile, had come to recognize that the heart of ministry for Jesus was ‘salvation for all.’ In his Gospel he especially included those narratives that illustrated the ‘cross-section’ of society to whom Jesus came. In the Acts, by focusing on the Gentile mission, he demonstrated that it was God’s intent through the Holy Spirit to take that salvation to the ends of the earth. Such an understanding Luke saw clearly, was absolutely central to the ministry of Jesus himself.

Our global mission, therefore, is rooted ultimately in Jesus’ application of Isaiah 53 and 61:1-2 to himself. He himself brought in the time of the End, the ‘year of the Lord’s favour,’ in which the good news to the poor meant release for the captives of all kinds. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit precisely for such a mission; and he in turn poured out the Spirit on his disciples so that they might continue that same mission. Gordon Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text, pgs. 177-179.