snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Sunday, June 24, 2007

as a matter of equality

This coming Sunday, Lord willing, I will preach on 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. In this text Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to finally make good their offer of aid to their famine stricken brethren in Jerusalem. Like many of us, the Corinthians appear to have been the first to sign up and the last to pay up in this relief efforts. Paul goads the Corinthians to give by setting out the poor-as-dirt-yet-astonishingly-generous Macedonians as exemplars of Christ-likeness (thereby shaming the overproud, self-centered, penny-pinching Corinthians).

Perhaps, the most shocking thing Paul says in this passage concerns his conception of the overarching goal of this relief effort:

13 I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality (isotetos) 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be equality (isotes).

Now, of course, several English translations render isotetos and isotes as "fairness" rather than "equality" (e.g., ESV, NRSV). But, let's face it, this lexical group is pretty consistently translated as "equality" and the like in verses that are less likely to impinge upon our wallets (e.g., Revelation 21:16; John 5:18; 2 Peter 1:1; 2 Maccabees 9:15; Matthew 20:12, etc.). I suspect that this is one of those places where a self-directed hermeneutic of suspicion (or better "a hermeneutic of contrition") is in order. Why did Jerome (a monk who had taken a vow of poverty) find it so easy to translate these words into the Latin "aequalitate" and "aequalitas," and why do we find an equivalent translation so difficult?

And why should we not expect Paul's goal to be equality of resources amongst the churches? Does not Acts tell us that those of the Jerusalem church "had all things in common and they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need" (2:44-45)? Did not John the Baptist tell the crowds, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise" (Luke 3:10-11)?

Indeed, does it not seem to follow inevitably from the indicative-imperative structure of Paul's ethics that equality would be his goal? Become what you are! You are dead to sin, so reckon yourself dead to sin (Romans 6). You are one in Christ Jesus, so be as one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). You are one body in Christ Jesus, so eat as one body and let there not be degrading divisions between haves and have-nots within the fellowship (1 Corinthians 11:17-33).

Beloved, what if we were to think this way with respect to the global Church? We ought not to forget that Paul's collection in 2 Corinthians and elsewhere was, in a sense, an international one. Macedonians and Corinthians helping far away, starving brethren in Jerusalem.

I think it's safe to say that our reluctance as American evangelicals to think along these lines owes a great deal to the fact that we are aware, deep-down of the disparity between our wealth and standard of living and that of our brethren in the 2/3 World (and poverty at home is not to be forgotten either). We know that it would cost us dearly to adopt Paul's goal and try to close that gap. I suspect that this is why Paul does not just prod the wealthy Corinthians with the good example of the Macedonians but reminds them of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus' poverty cannot be relativized, for he emptied himself unto death. He bids us also to come and die that others might live. What remains to be seen is what remained to be seen for the Corinthians, whether our "love also is genuine" (8:8).


Blogger art said...

that's good stuff.

12:12 AM  
Blogger rebecca said...

i am so excited that you are preaching! i will be praying for things to go well. i don't know if i'll be there this sunday, but i would love to hear about it afterwards!
p.s. long time no see...

12:17 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Thanks, Art. Wasn't that video crazy convicting?

Rebecca, don't worry about missing the sermon. I'm preaching in Wilmington, NC, not Glenside. If you made that drive, I'd be super-impressed.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Afluenza! That's genius!! is there a vaccine?

12:49 PM  
Blogger LoftGirl said...

Thought #1: You should show this video to the senior high at some point - I think it fits in well with what Dave G was talking about last Saturday in terms of his goals for next year... pretty funny too (not the starving children part obviously).

Thought #2: As usual I'm looking for a practical approach to what you're saying. I agree that there is a huge disparity in wealth. So how (in reality) do we as a church fix that? How do you actually go about sharing the wealth of the American church, with that of say, the African, or South American churches? Or the rest of the 3rd world? My point is that it's a great thought, and you're probably right (I would say you are), but can you explain how this can actually be done? What would life look like if you actually did this? Because as we all know, it's one thing to say, (no offense to Art at all) "that's good stuff" and then just keep moving about the business of our lives. How does this really change us? Do we just give more on Sunday mornings, or are you (and of course Scripture) calling for more dramatic action on our part? If so, what does that look like?

I'm not at all bashing what you're saying - you obviously have a lot of passion for the topic, and you've thought it through - I appreciate that. I'm just looking for the substance behind the words - I feel like the gospel rings empty unless it really affects change in our lives. So, how should what you're preaching on change us?

2:29 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Hey loftgirl,
Your question deserves a post all to itself, since no "comment" will be sufficient. So stay tuned...

9:37 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I'm going to have my kids watch the video, SNIA . . . it hit home.

Hope all is well!

9:28 PM  

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