Issues of poverty appear frequently in Jesus’ teachings. According to Luke, he began his ministry by declaring he had come to “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4,18). Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ mother Mary is quoted as praising God who “has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1,53). Luke tells us that Jesus said “Blessed are you who are poor… but woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6,20-24). In Matthew’s version, Jesus instead says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5,3). Some take this to refer to those who in spiritual need. Others believe that “poor in spirit” refers to those who take sides with the poor.
In all three synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), Jesus tells a rich man to sell his property and give to the poor, declaring that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10,25; see also Matthew 19,24 and Luke 18,25). This is not to suggest that Jesus encouraged hatred for the rich. Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, became a follower of Jesus and gave away half his wealth (Luke 19,1-10). Jesus’ parables in Matthew and Luke frequently include economic themes.
One of the most significant instances in all four gospels is Jesus’ protest in the Jerusalem Temple, often referred to as “the cleansing of the temple”. Jesus denounced the moneychangers who changed Roman or Greek money into the Jewish money usable in the Temple. He overturned “the seats of those selling doves”; doves were the cheapest acceptable animal for sacrifices and the cost of them for poor worshippers had become a source of controversy (Mark 11, 15-19; see also Matthew 21, 12-14, Luke 19, 45-46 and John 2, 13-22).
Interpretations of these passages vary considerably, although it seems clear that Jesus was attacking economic exploitation, some of it carried out in the name of religion. Mark’s Gospel states that Jesus “would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple”, implying that he and the disciples blocked or picketed the entrances. This appears to have been a well-organised protest.