This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
250,000 already dead in Somalia famine
2 Corinthians 8:1-16
New English Translation (NET)
Completing the Collection for the Saints
8 Now we make known to you, brothers and sisters, the grace of God given to the churches of Macedonia, 2 that during a severe ordeal of suffering, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in the wealth of their generosity. 3 For I testify, they gave according to their means and beyond their means. They did so voluntarily, 4 begging us with great earnestness for the blessing and fellowship of helping the saints. 5 And they did this not just as we had hoped, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 Thus we urged Titus that, just as he had previously begun this work, so also he should complete this act of kindness for you. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you—make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too. 8 I am not saying this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love by comparison with the eagerness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich. 10 So here is my opinion on this matter: It is to your advantage, since you made a good start last year both in your giving and your desire to give, 11 to finish what you started, so that just as you wanted to do it eagerly, you can also complete it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. 14 At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
The “collection for the saints” is Paul’s project of taking a gift of money from the Gentile churches to the believers in Judaea who were undergoing hardship. Given the time-scale of this project, it’s difficult to imagine an emergency in Judaea that could wait so long for relief. Probably the need was on-going poverty exacerbated by poor harvests. In any case, Paul is as concerned for the unity of the Gentile and Jewish communities as he is to offer practical assistance. The gift will be a sign of the bona fides as well as the loving concern, of the Gentile churches. It’s a stunning example of Paul’s ecumenical understanding. Faith in Jesus Messiah involves imagining the needs of brothers and sisters of different race at the other side of the world. Had the Roman government known of this level of international organisation it might have tried to close down Christian churches sooner than it did.
The NET version keeps the old translation of the Greek “hagioi” as “saints”, that is, “holy ones”, the Pauline term for the people of God. The modern tendency to translate it as “God’s people” is to be resisted as inaccurate and exclusive. Believers are part of God’s people, no doubt, but there may be others. To call them saints, on the other hand represents their calling and commitment.
Another virtue of this version, as of the KJV is its use of the word “equality” in verses 14 and 15 for the Greek “isotetos”. The political bias of many modern translations can be seen in their struggle to avoid this obvious translation. “Whaddya mean ‘equality’, Paul? You some kinda communist?” Paul does use this word because he wants to urge the justice as well as the generosity that should motivate his saints. If people are to live the shared life of the Holy Spirit, they must see that good fortune allows them to create equality by sharing; and bad fortune should lead them to expect an equality created by their brothers and sisters. This remains the basis of the UK NGO Christian Aid today: those who give are not simply being generous; they are restoring the justice of God which has been broken by natural disaster or economic exploitation.
Paul urges this commitment by a shrewd appeal to competitive virtue-the Macedonians, though much poorer than you, have done this gladly-combined with fundamental theology-the Lord Jesus Messiah impoverished himself (even to the complete bankruptcy of the cross!) in order to make you rich (in divine goodness and justice). A climate of astonishing generosity has been established by God in his Messiah. Believers are encouraged to live in it, gladly.
The quotation from Exodus 16, the story of the manna, shows that Paul is thinking of the equal distribution of God’s material as well as spiritual gifts. Those who tried to gather and hoard the manna for their own use found that it went bad. “Daily bread” was to be shared justly.
All in all, this passage is a splendid example of the consistency of Paul’s theology. He uses the fundamental truths of faith to work out a new way of living in one world, as saints; that is, as holy people who know that they have brothers and sisters of all races and all conditions of life. Because the shared life (fellowship) of the Holy Spirit requires the care of human bodies as well as souls and spirits, it involves a robust practicality as much as prayer. Both the language and argument of this passage challenge the practice of the churches today.