Enriching Poverty

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, of the grace of God
that has been given to the churches of Macedonia,
for in a severe test of affliction,
the abundance of their joy and their profound poverty
overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
For according to their means, I can testify,
and beyond their means, spontaneously,
they begged us insistently for the favor of taking part
in the service to the holy ones,
and this, not as we expected,
but they gave themselves first to the Lord
and to us through the will of God,
so that we urged Titus that, as he had already begun,
he should also complete for you this gracious act also.
Now as you excel in every respect,
in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness,
and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.

I say this not by way of command,
but to test the genuineness of your love
by your concern for others.
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that for your sake he became poor although he was rich,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
(2 Corinthians 8:1-9)

Scripture Study

8:1 The grace of God: the fundamental theme is expressed by the Greek noun charis, which will be variously translated throughout these chapters as “grace” (2 Cor 8:1; 9:8, 14), “favor” (2 Cor 8:4), “gracious act” (2 Cor 8:6, 7, 9) or “gracious work” (2 Cor 8:19), to be compared to “gracious gift” (1 Cor 16:3).

8:2 Three more terms are now introduced. Test (dokimē): the same root is translated as “to test” (2 Cor 8:8) and “evidence” (2 Cor 9:13); it means to be tried and found genuine. Abundance: variations on the same root lie behind “overflow” (2 Cor 8:2; 9:12), “excel” (2 Cor 8:7), “surplus” (2 Cor 8:14), “superfluous” (2 Cor 9:1) “make abundant” and “have an abundance” (2 Cor 9:8). These expressions of fullness contrast with references to need (2 Cor 8:14; 9:12). Generosity: the word haplotēs has nuances of both simplicity and sincerity; here and in 2 Cor 9:11, 13 it designates the singleness of purpose that manifests itself in generous giving.

8:3–4 Paul emphasizes the spontaneity of the Macedonians and the nature of their action. They begged us insistently: the same root is translated as “urge,” “appeal,” “encourage” (2 Cor 8:6, 17; 9:5). Taking part: the same word is translated “contribution” in 2 Cor 9:13 and a related term as “partner” in 2 Cor 8:23. Service (diakonia): this word occurs also in 2 Cor 9:1, 13 as “service”; in 2 Cor 9:12 it is translated “administration,” and in 2 Cor 8:19, 20 the corresponding verb is rendered “administer.”

8:5 They gave themselves … to the Lord and to us: on its deepest level their attitude is one of self-giving.

8:6 Titus: 1 Cor 16 seemed to leave the organization up to the Corinthians, but apparently Paul has sent Titus to initiate the collection as well; 2 Cor 8:16–17 will describe Titus’ attitude as one of shared concern and cooperation.

8:7 The charitable service Paul is promoting is seen briefly and in passing within the perspective of Paul’s theology of the charisms. Earnestness (spoudē): this or related terms occur also in 2 Cor 8:22 (“earnest”) and 2 Cor 8:8, 16, 17 (“concern”).

8:9 The dialectic of Jesus’ experience, expressed earlier in terms of life and death (2 Cor 5:15), sin and righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), is now rephrased in terms of poverty and wealth.

Scripture Reflection

Jesus Christ is the example of detachment and generosity. Our Lord, because he is God, was in need of nothing; but by becoming man he voluntarily despoiled himself of the splendor of his divinity (cf. Phil 2:6f) and lived on earth as a poor man—from his birth in poverty in Bethlehem to his death on the cross; sometimes he did not even have the bare necessities of life (cf. Lk 9:58).

“If you do not believe that poverty is enriching,” St John Chrysostom comments, “picture your Lord and you will doubt me no longer. For had he not become poor, you could not have become rich. By a miracle which men cannot understand, poverty has produced these riches—the knowledge of God and godliness, liberation from sin, justification, sanctification, the countless good things which he has bestowed on us and will bestow on us in the future. All those things have accrued to us through his poverty—through his taking our flesh and becoming man and suffering what he suffered. And yet, unlike us, he did not deserve punishment and suffering” (Hom. on 2 Cor, 17).

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.