At the time that Francis of Assisi began his ordeer of Friars Minor, based on voluntary poverty and the sermon on the mount, the Church which he honored as Jesus' earthly vehical was at the height of its economic and political power and well on the slippery slope of corruption. So while Francis honored the Church, he admonished his followers to avoid it as much as possible. Specifically, he wanted them to avoid becoming bishops and cardinals and prefered that they remain laymen
Father Richard Rohr, a Fransiscan, deals with that topic this week and it will be interesting to see where he goes with it. But i had some immediate thoughts.
I am accustomed to viewing poverty as either voluntary or involuntary, spiritually poor in spirit and possessions or economically poor because that's how society is structured and the rich prefer to hold on to as much of their wealth as possible. But there are other kinds of economic poverty and other ways of lookiing at it.
During Jesus' time, Rome was an agrarian society. In such societies the one percent (or 3 or 5) controlled between two-thirds to three quarters of the total wealth, with the royal family holding as much as one-half. Excepf for 6 to 12 percent who were "outside" the system or "expendable" the bulk of the population were peasants and poor. If one peasant was more fortunate than the others, he considered himself lucky but still a peasant who sought no higher or more lucritive calling. There still may be some such people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Poverty is not so much involuntary as a simple fact of living.
Jesus himself lived like a peasant dispite his trade. In fact, by becoming a teacher (uncertified) and healer (of the poor rather than the rich) he placed himself among the "excpendables." His audiences, followers, and students were mostly peasants but included other classes ( lepers, the sick poor, the rich young prince, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and "strangers in the land."
Things were not much different in "Italy" 1200 years later. There may have been a few more people of wealth and more of those were merchants, like Saint Francis' father. (Capitalism was born in "Italy."). Francis' followers must have been like Jesus', and his message was also. Sadly, like the Church, the Order of Friars Minor also changed a lot over the years.
Jesus and Francis expected (and wanted) their followers to be poor.
Francis also wanted nis followers to be "poor in spirit."
The Gosped According to "Matthew" has Jesus begin the sermon on the mount with the first of nine blessings. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their's is the kingdom of heaven.
Luke, writing a few years later, records four beatitudes, the first of which is: "Blessed by ye poor, for your's is the kingdom of God."
Q1 written(?) sometime before 70 a.d.is liberal scholars efforts to get as close as possible to the actual words of the "historical" Jesus.. Here there are three "beatitudes," the first is which is "How fortunate are the poor, they have God's kingdom." The next two dealing with the hungry and the crying are even more down to earth. A fourth "beatitude" apparently added years later is similar to Luke's fourth blessing.
Jesus, it seems to me, was concerned primarily about the physical poverty of the people in Galilee. The sermon on the mount is a practical guide to living as a community in the midst of chaos and impending war.
I have not got very far with this, but i want to make two points.
1) There ,may be considerable overlap between poverty of spirit and poverty. Many spiritually informed people choose to be poor, and many poor people, closer to the earth and closer to "reality" than the rest of us tend to be more spiritually inclined.
2) Poverty of spirit is not spiritual poverty. The former has to do with humility and attempts to subdue ego in the interest of the common good and a perception of unity. When Mother Theresa of Calcutta referred to the West as a "spiritual Bangladesh" she was not praising us but implying that the spiritual needs of the West are as urgent as the economic needs of the poorest nations.