I’ve always had something of a love/hate relationship with Paul. A fair reading of the entire corpus of Paul, well it leaves something to be desired from a woman’s standpoint. Later, when I learned that there is wide discrepancy between “authentic” Paul and non, he fared a bit better. The worst texts were probably not written by him at all.
It has been a truism that in talking with fundamentalists, it’s my experience that Paul is quoted about 4-1 in making any conservative point. I guess that stands to reason, since pseudo-Paul fits the conservative ticket much more than the liberal side of life.
However it does seem odd that the very people who “confess Jesus as their personal savior” so infrequently quote Jesus for how Christians should behave.
It almost makes one wonder if they somehow use the scriptures to substantiate personal opinions rather than “learn how to behave”.
Plenty of so-called Christians have offered me the following gems of pseudo-knowledge:
- Paul endorses the notion that if you don’t work, you don’t eat, negating the present government’s attempt to “give” people stuff rather than make them get a job.
- Paul of course echoes God in decrying homosexuality.
- Paul believed women should be seen and not heard.
- Paul believed women should be obedient to their husbands who are their natural betters.
When it comes to Jesus, they become more brazen. Jesus, they tell me, favored owning guns for self-defense, didn’t want the government involved in taking care of the poor, and didn’t believe in minimum wages.
In today’s reading, (2Cor 8: 7, 9, 13-15) Paul finds himself in a bit of a pickle. He literally begs the Corinthians to be generous. He has, it turns out, been exhorting the Macedonians to give generously by touting the largess of the Corinthians and vice versa. Macedonia has come through with great giving and Corinth so far has not.
Paul is concerned about the contribution to the Jerusalem “saints” for a couple of reasons. First, they are genuinely in need, and Paul recognizes that the hallmark of this new way of being requires serious attention to the problem of the poor. Second, the Gentiles that Paul “leads” are still quite suspect as far as the very Jewish Jerusalem church is concerned. Paul hopes a good contribution will do much to ease the tension between the two groups, and unify them in their common quest to spread the Gospel to all nations.
Paul says some interesting things. God, Paul claims, gives Christians the grace to give lovingly and generously. Using the Macedonians as an example, he explains that God gives to those who give generously, and their generosity is met with God’s largess to them. Further he points out that if they take care of Jerusalem’s needs now, in the future Jerusalem may well be in position to help them in their hour of need.
There should be a “fair balance” or equality between them, as he puts it.
“. . .[Y]our surplus at present may fill their deficit, and another time their surplus may fill your deficit.”
No simpler explanation need be given. You give when you can, and trust that if the tables become turned in the future, others may do the same for you. Or, as Jesus might have said, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Lest there be a doubt, Paul explains that God will make it so. Quoting Exodus wherein God provided manna to the complaining Israelites in the desert:
“No one who had collected more had too much, no one who collected less had t little.”
In other words, you human need not keep score. God will take care of that. Just do what you are called by God to do: take care of those in need.
Somehow that message seems lost to many Christians today.
Continuously I hear this from conservative Christians: I object to paying taxes for “handouts” to those who are too lazy to work. I was taught to work and to not expect stuff to be given to me, but rather earned. These folks are all about give me. Our government has taught them that. The bible tells me to give to the poor, and I do so. But I decide how much and for what. That is as it should be. I’m tired of supporting dead beats.
What follows is almost always a rendition of all the wonderful things this person has done for the poor. Each believes with their full being that they have purchased salvation by their acts, although they would deny this as a blasphemous negation of Luther’s main thrust of justification by faith alone. Yet they will, as proof, point out that Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you.” This they claim shows that government cannot solve the problem. What they don’t say is what they also believe–the poor are there to be the recipient of charity offered to secure one’s own salvation.
What kind of God is this?
Paul’s exhortations to the Corinthians suggests a different arrangement. You give the very most you can, and let God take care of the rest. God makes sure that it’s all evened out in the end.
God it seems (along with Paul) is a Marxist.
Talk of “equality and fairness” are concepts unknown to a winner-take-all free market analysis. What is fair in such a system is that smarter and harder working people are supposed to gain while slackers sink. Of course it isn’t at all smartness or hard work that make the difference really. Luck and favorable opportunity count for as much if not more. But that doesn’t feed the scenario being offered.
The very point Paul makes is ignored by the conservative Christian who prefers to focus on interpretations that support their own needs and wants. This goes along with Susan B. Anthony’s remark:
“I distrust those who claim to know what God wants when it always so perfectly coincides with their own desires.”
Paul is very crafty in his explanation: Give exactly what you feel is appropriate, but remember God will make sure you are given all you need to give generously. In other words, the more you give, the more you prove that God is indeed actively supporting you. Who could ignore that incentive?
There is no reason at all theoretically why one cannot take as much satisfaction in the paying of taxes for equitable redistribution as to give personally. But theory pales in the face of our very human need to feel superior and to be noted. So we insist that somehow it’s better if I choose what and where to offer my alms. At least we do if we aren’t really about the help so much as we are being sure that we are duly credited publicly for our benevolence.
We must recall as well that Paul is exhorting Gentiles to be generous with those who are making their lives more difficult–Jerusalem Christians of Jewish descent, who are still not quite sure these Gentiles are properly God’s children without converting and adopting Jewish traditions and codes of behavior.
Paul recognized that we are called to give no matter how well we relate to the recipient. We could do well to emulate that notion in our own giving. None of us will necessarily agree with every program that seeks to improve the imbalance between rich and poor, but we can be mindful of Paul’s assurance that God will sort it all out and make it “fair.”
Don’t we have enough to deal with without taking on God’ job as well?
An Excellent read on the subject of charity: Treasure in Heaven