Writing with encouragement for the Corinthians to be generous, Paul wrote:
And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something – now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:10-15
In the context of the 16 months of the COVID pandemic, the continuing awareness of the violence and systemic inequities of racism and issues of sexuality, the accelerating challenges of the global environmental crises we face, and the constant threats of war and terrorism which we are surrounded by, this passage struck me in an entirely different way than it has in the past. There is a timely imperative and a hopeful encouragement in Paul’s message from over 2,000 years ago.
A year ago, we were planning for many things. The sense that the pandemic was not going to end quickly, along with all the other chaos and divisions in our culture and world were causing us to rethink how we approach nearly everything we did. The plans we had before COVID had been disrupted and we could not worship or work or offer care or be in relationships the ways we had before. Everything changed.
Now, there are hopes of moving on from the isolation of the pandemic and an eagerness to get back to life the way it was before. In addition, there are lessons learned during this time which many of us hope we can benefit from, and which might change the ways we live together in our Christian community. How can we begin in a different way to bring the best from the pre-pandemic past and the lessons learned from our pandemic time into how we live and serve and care for one another in the future?
It’s not only the pandemic. It’s also all the other justice issues which we are compelled to face as we explore how to return to Christian community, both where we live and into our world. How do we address these issues with grace, with faithfulness, with hope, and trust? Paul’s answer seems to teach us to live with a sense of “enough.” He encourages us, where we have abundance, to allow our abundant blessings to be used to meet the needs of others – AND – where others have abundance, to allow that to meet our needs.
We often live with a sense that the ways of the world lead either to scarcity – never enough – or abundance – far more than is needed. Paul invites us to live in the middle. We are called to give and share from our abundance, no matter how small that abundance seems to us. What are the gifts, the abundance you have, which you can offer to our world to bring more balance? It’s not just about giving money. It’s about sharing the abundance of our smiles, our praise, our ideas, our time, our actions, our care… In so many ways we have more than enough which we can offer to others. How can sharing from our abundance bring more justice and equity and faithful balance into our world?
We are also called to welcome the gifts others bring to us, such as when we don’t realize our own needs, or even when we believe others don’t have anything to offer us. When we encounter someone who is different from us – a stranger, someone across a divide we have created in our judgment of others, a situation which pushes us out of our comfort zone… What are the gifts those people or situations bring to us? How can we see and accept those gifts to bring healthier and more faithful and fruitful balance to our lives and world?
How can we serve and work and live into this coming year so that Paul’s encouragement can be realized (made real), so that… “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
God of blessing and grace, guide us so that we live and love in ways where everyone everywhere has enough – not too much and not too little. Thank you for your Spirit of justice and hope which continues to nudge and encourage us to live more grace-full, prayer-full, faith-full lives. We pray in the name and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.