Abounding grace (part 2)

penniesJesus sits across from the collection box, where people are donating to the treasury of the Jerusalem temple. Rich people are putting in significant sums of money, and one can only assume that the disciples were suitably impressed.

But Jesus has just finished teaching about how the religion of the Jewish experts in the law is all for show; their true nature is shown by the way they take advantage of poor widows. As if on cue, a poor woman approaches the collection box. She is indeed a widow who has to live on next to nothing. She can therefore only give a couple of pennies — a pittance to most, but an enormous sacrifice to her. Jesus tells his disciples to take note. Her two little coins, given generously out of her poverty, are worth more to God than the piles of cash others have given out of their surplus (Mark 12:38-44).

So it was with the churches in Macedonia, who gave generously to Paul’s collection for the poor in Jerusalem, despite their poverty and the pressures of persecution. They did so because of their abundant and overflowing joy, a sign of the grace they had received from God (2 Cor 8:1-2).

Just so, Paul — using the same word he used to describe the Macedonians’ abounding joy — tells the Corinthians to “abound in this grace,” that is, to demonstrate the reality of God’s grace in their lives by participating wholeheartedly in the collection.

He acknowledges that they already “abound” in other things, such as the spiritual gifts of “speech” and “knowledge” (cf. 1 Cor 1:5) of which they already seem to be so proud. He also commends them for their faith, love, and the eagerness with which they want to make things right with Paul (cf. 2 Cor 7:11; 8:7). As he will say in later verses, their attitude and behavior with respect to the collection will be the true test of the state of their supposedly repentant hearts.

But as noted in the previous post, giving money to a cause is one thing; giving yourself gratefully to God is another. Paul makes it clear that the Macedonians gave above and beyond expectations because they were responding to God’s grace: they knew they had been given much and wanted to give back. Nothing, it seemed, was too much; they gave God their lives first, and then, as a consequence, their money (2 Cor 8:5).

I will confess: I can, at times, be very stingy of heart, despite the fact that God has blessed my family with a wealth of resources. I give, but not as the widow whom Jesus commended, nor the Macedonians.

As we’ll see later, Paul isn’t asking the Corinthians to take a vow of poverty; instead, he wants them to care about economic inequality. But at root, the question is always this: do I truly understand, to the depths of my being, the grace I have already received?  Do I know my own spiritual poverty, and how God has made me rich?

For that is exactly what Jesus has done for us: he made himself poor so we could be rich.  More on that in an upcoming post.