He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.
One of my favorite hymns of the Divine Liturgy is at the end of the service, where we sing “Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and forevermore!” (Psalm 113:2) (In Greek, this is “I to onoma Kyriou evlogimenon, apo tou nin, ke eos tou aonon.”) And, as with many hymns and prayers of our liturgical services, that one comes directly from this Psalm.
The focus of today’s reflection is God’s help for the poor. There are two ways to interpret the “poor” in this Psalm. The first way is to think of those who are materially poor. We’re reminded of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) In this parable, a poor man named Lazarus sits at the foot of the table of a rich man. Lazarus is covered with sores. He desires to eat what falls from the rich man’s table. But the rich man never gives him anything. Lazarus, in the meantime, never steals from the rich man. He never complains to the rich man. He just accepts his situation with patience. In time both the rich man and Lazarus die, and Lazarus is carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man is consigned to hell. The rich man is not consigned to hell because of his riches, but rather because of his indifference. And Lazarus is not rewarded with heaven because he is poor, but rather because he is patient. The lesson of this parable is not that we shouldn’t try to better ourselves. It is that when we find ourselves stuck in our status, whether that is our material wealth, our health, a setback, or some other aspect of life that we can’t change, that our recourse should not be trying to even the score with others, but a patient acceptance of who we are and what we have, and a faithful hope that God will reward our patience with His grace that leads to salvation. There are people who are materially poor who will find their way out of poverty—they will either work their way out of poverty, or be gifted an opportunity to advancement. And there are people who won’t be able to work their way out of poverty. They will be stuck there. Just like there will be people who will work hard to recover their health, while there are others who will be stuck with some infirmity. Those who endure with patience and faith will receive God’s grace. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus also calls upon those with the means to help those without means. The rich man had every opportunity to help poor Lazarus, by giving him the crumbs he wasn’t going to eat anyway. We aren’t even talking sacrificial giving. Most of us have the means to give from an abundance, things we aren’t using anyway. Love requires sacrifice. And love of God requires some sacrificial giving as well. We certainly should be generous with what we do not need, and we should learn to be generous by sacrificing things we do need.
The second aspect of God helping the poor is for those who recognize that they are spiritually poor. Matthew 5:3, the Beatitudes, come to mind. Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In some sense we are all poor in spirit. We all can do better in our spiritual lives. The one who thinks he is spiritually rich is actually spiritually poor, because he has been blinded by the sin of pride. On the other hand, the one who thinks he is spiritually poor and sincerely desires to grow toward the Lord, is going to lead a life based on humility. And humility is the first step to salvation, because it is a recognition that “I cannot save myself by myself. I must put my faith, and my life, in the hands of God, Who is greater than me. Only He can save me.”
There are many people who feign humility, who try to act spiritually poor but whose lives reflect pride or false piety. There are others who think humility is found in fancy icons or expensive crosses. The one who is truly humble, doesn’t need to express humility. He or she keeps that within themselves and tries to lead a modest and unpretentious life.
Psalm 113:7-8 reminds us that the Lord “raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people.” This refers to the materially poor—that God will raise the poor, like Lazarus in Luke 16, to sit with princes in the kingdom of heaven. This also refers to the spiritually poor—the ones who have gone without pride and self-aggrandizement will sit with the princes of God’s people as well, His saints.
Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised! The Lord is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, Who is seated on high, Who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord! Psalm 113
Be humble and be generous. Recognize that everyone’s spirit is poor and can do better. Look for opportunities to share with those who are poor today—whether they are starving for food, for help, for an attentive ear, for encouragement or for the Lord!