Trading places

princeandthepauperIn Mark Twain’s classic novel, The Prince and the Pauper, two boys, the young Prince Edward and his poverty-stricken lookalike Tom, accidentally exchange places. When Edward’s father King Henry VIII dies, Tom reluctantly assumes the throne, while Edward must escape Tom’s abusive father and find his way back to the palace. Both young men are changed through the experience. Through his brush with poverty and the horrors of class inequality, Edward learns compassion; Tom, for helping to set things straight, is rewarded with a position of privilege.

The parallel is imperfect, but Twain’s story comes to mind when I read these words from Paul:

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty. (2 Cor 8:9, CEB)

Paul is trying to motivate the Corinthians to help their impoverished Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem with a generous contribution. The words above are reminiscent of his letter to the Philippians (one of the Macedonian churches which Paul uses as an example of sacrificial giving):

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. (Phil 2:5-7, CEB)

When we think of what God has done for us through Jesus, we may used to the idea of an exchange. Jesus took our place on the cross, taking the penalty for our sins. But there was another, prior exchange: Jesus emptied himself of his princely privileges to become a pauper like us, that we might ourselves become heirs of the King.

“Rich” and “poor”: Paul’s metaphors aren’t accidental. The Corinthians are indeed rich in resources compared to the poor in Jerusalem; even a gift out of their surplus will be of great help. But what Paul hopes to see in them is a welling up of generosity, an overflow of thanks for the grand exchange by which they have become rich through the poverty of Christ.

In other words, how much they give is less important than the spirit in which the gift is given. The willingness, the enthusiasm is all, motivated by gratitude to God and compassion for others. More on that in the next post.