Strangers or family?

Here’s a common scenario in our house: the phone rings; we glance over at it to see who’s calling; then we just let it ring and go about our business. These days, the majority of calls are from scammers, telemarketers, and organizations asking for money. (Yes, we still have a landline. You know, what used to be thought of as a real phone.) We find ourselves on the defensive — so much so that even legitimate requests for donations feel like someone’s trying to bilk us.

Maybe you’ve felt the same way?

In previous posts, we’ve seen how Paul tried to encourage the Corinthians to give generously to the poor, by using the example of the Macedonian churches and even of Jesus himself. But reading between the lines of Paul’s letter, it seems the Corinthians may have been wary and suspicious: was Paul asking for a blank check?

Thus, he reassures them:

A gift is appreciated because of what a person can afford, not because of what that person can’t afford, if it’s apparent that it’s done willingly. It isn’t that we want others to have financial ease and you financial difficulties, but it’s a matter of equality. At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way there is equality. As it is written, The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little. (2 Cor 8:12-15, CEB)

As suggested in Sunday’s post, the moral or spiritual value of a gift isn’t in its size; after all, a person can give an enormous and sacrificial sum of money for the wrong reasons. What’s most impressive about the Macedonian contribution, therefore, is that the gift clearly demonstrated hearts captivated by grace.

Paul isn’t asking the Corinthians to go poor. He suggests that even giving out of their financial surplus would be of great help. But again, the eager willingness to give is what counts. And behind that eagerness must be a change of perception, a new way of thinking.

“Equality.” On one level, we might read that as numerical equality, a balancing of the books. It’s highly unlikely that Paul would mean some strict accounting by which resources are redistributed until everyone has the same net worth. At the very least, however, those who have more than they need should give willingly to help ensure that their brothers and sisters have the basic necessities of life.

But on another level, we might think instead of a different kind of equality: under the new covenant, Jews and Gentiles who follow Christ are no longer strangers, but family.

Paul quotes Exodus 16:18. The context is the story of the gift of manna to God’s people. Families were specifically instructed to gather one omer of manna (about two quarts) for each member of the household; in that way, everyone had exactly what they needed every day.

But God’s people now includes both Jews and Gentiles, living in cities spread across the Roman Empire. And under the new covenant, they are to provide for each other.

The Corinthians can give reluctantly to “them,” a mysterious and foreign people in a distant land. Or they can take hold of the grace they’ve already received, recognize the poor in Jerusalem as their brothers and sisters, and give accordingly.

We have all kinds of reasons for feeling defensive when people ask for money, and not everyone can be trusted. But Paul wants to provoke a shift in perspective, from “me” and “mine” to a more inclusive “us.” The family of God is diverse and widespread, but some of our brothers and sisters are still “strangers” to us. What can we do to break down the barriers of ignorance or suspicion?