In Aristophanes play Plutus, the god of wealth Plutus declares to Poverty and Destitution that they are like two sisters. Right away Poverty makes it crystal clear that they are not the same. Poverty states that Destitution has nothing of its own “nor even a penny to posses”. Poverty goes on to state that at least the poor man works and that there is some manner of dignity, whereas Destitution has no dignity whatsoever. This mentality was very prevelant in the Maria Nostra culture of its time, and shows up time and time again all over in Ancient literature and history. The Greek word for poverty is translated penian, while the Greek word for destitution is ptocheias. When Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”, that word comes from the original Greek word ptocheias which means destitute. So Jesus is saying that all those without dignity, without anything, those who are completely destitute are not only blessed, but theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
This begs the question that living in the heart of the American Empire, are the beggars in the Empire amidst the oppression and mask of normalcy the only ones that are righteous enough to be the rightful heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? If so, then so much for the passing fads of political changes, because in the end the destitute and those who help them will be saved, and the rest damned. Maybe this is just one reason why Soren Kierkegaard said, “It is a fearful thing to be alone with the New Testament”. In the light of this one statement alone out of the mouth of Jesus, those who have been discarded as human junk through an abuse of power in a systematic and highly structured evil system, will be at the top of the heap, while those on the top, middle, and even poor, will be at the bottom. This is what is called the theology of inversion. And in Ancient times since the destitute were considered to be either cursed of God or the gods, not only does Jesus refute that hateful mentality, but by stating that they are blessed above all He is exposing the class structure in its theological/socioeconomic context.
This mentality and practice continues till today in so-called Christian America contrary to what Jesus taught. So how does this fare with our ideas of activism, activism itself, speaking truth to power, writing or commenting on articles that we think will change peoples thinking that could change the world? Are we part of the problem? Are we perpetuating the myth of actually doing something that is making impact if we ignore the absolute destitute among us? Are we like the phony Christians who turn away the destitute? Maybe if He just could have used the word poor, it would be a little easier on us all. But He did not. He used the word destitute, and Luke was writing to the Greeks. They knew what he meant.
Now we can rationalize away all we want to concerning this verse. We can come up with all the excuses in the world no matter what we believe. But as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Why can’t the words of Jesus and our conscience just leave us the hell alone? Can we actually live with ourself with any semblance of dignity if we ignore this? No, I don’t think we can. But in a very ironic way, the destitute already have dignity, because they have glimpsed Heaven among a rather hellish existence, and because Christ himself has given to them His dignity by His loving sacrifice. We are invited to join in on that joyful sacrifice and reach out to the ones who have nothing, the most blessed of us all.