The Ultimate Benefactor

Sunday, June 20, 2024
Becoming in Christ
Psalm 130 & 2 Corinthians 8:1-9
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Our hearts are warmed whenever we hear about random acts of kindness. From the person who pays for the coffee of the person behind them at the Starbucks’s drive-thru to the person who pays for the single parent’s groceries when their debit card is denied. Perhaps the most well-known radical act of kindness in the Bible is found in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Because we are so far removed from Jesus’s time, many of this story’s details are lost on us, but would have been noticed by Jesus’s original audience. Details such as the wealth of the good Samaritan. He was probably a traveling merchant whose business took him far from Samaria. The things he provided for the man left for dead by robbers were expensive. The Samaritan had to have more wealth than most to afford a donkey as transportation, which he also used to carry the beaten man to a nearby inn. In addition, there was the cost of the wine and oil he purchased to dress the man’s wounds. He not only had the money to put the man up at an inn, but gave even more money to the innkeeper to care for the man while he continued his business travels. The Samaritan also tells the innkeeper that any cost above what he provided he would immediately reimburse upon his return. 

Biblical scholar and author, Skye Jethani writes that the Samaritan did not view his wealth as something that benefitted just him. Jethani writes that similar to today, it was prevalent in ancient Palestine to view wealth as being bestowed only upon the righteous. So if you are poor or in poverty then you must have done something wrong to deserve that state in life. Jesus uses this story to illustrate that this view is not in line with the Kingdom of God. 

Jethani also points out that the wealth of the good Samaritan is important because it shows that he not only had the compassion to help the beaten man, he also had the means to do so – not just once, but over an extended period of time. Even if it was at great cost to him. The story of the good Samaritan challenges us to consider using our resources to help those in need not just once, but like the Samaritan over a longer period of time. This view of money is very much antithetical to how one’s wealth was viewed in both Jesus’s day and today.

There are numerous stories of individuals and communities in the Bible who generously gave to those in need even if it was, as it was for the good Samaritan, at great cost to them. Not as well known as the Good Samaritan was the first church in Macedonia. While they were not a wealthy community by any means, in fact, Paul describes them as being in extreme poverty, they still managed to pull together their meager resources to support other churches that were also struggling. In fact they chose to give beyond their means. They did so because they viewed their giving as partnering with Paul and ultimately partnering with God to support what the Holy Spirit was doing within small fledging Christian communities such as the church in Jerusalem. 

Because of this, Paul praised their generosity. Paul also points out that their generosity first began not with their decision to give, but with their decision to “give themselves to God.” Their generosity came out of their knowing first the generosity of Jesus Christ, who Paul reminds us “although he was rich, he became poor for us.” Paul holds up the generosity of the Macedonian church as an example of generous giving that comes out of knowing Jesus Christ. Paul wants the church in Corinth to view their wealth, resources and relationships in light of the generosity of Jesus Christ. In doing so their views of wealth and community will radically change. 

Speaking of relationships, one of the internal conflicts within the Corinthian church had to do with their relationship with Paul. The church in Corinth wanted to be Paul’s benefactor, meaning they wanted to support him financially. But this would make Paul their patron and therefore he would be indebted to them. Such a set up would essentially make Paul an employee of the church in Corinth and would limit his ministry to other churches. Paul didn’t want that, as he had relationships with numerous churches, but it was also a slap in the face to the church in Corinth for refusing their generosity. Not that Paul didn’t accept financial help from others, as he certainly had to depend on the hospitality of others when he was traveling. But he didn’t want to be constrained by being a patron to just one church as this is how the relationship between benefactor and patron worked in that day. 

But Paul also wants them to change their view of the relationship between benefactor and patron in light of Jesus Christ. Paul turns the table on them by wanting to be seen as their spiritual benefactor. Meaning he wants to be their spiritual guide, the person they go to for questions and guidance on how to live as followers of Jesus Christ. As spiritual patrons, the Corinthian church wouldn’t be indebted to Paul, which is how the relationship between benefactor and patron works, but would instead be seen as patrons to Jesus Christ. This is because Jesus Christ is the ultimate benefactor who gave his life for all so that all could experience new life in him. Part of that new life is accepting how God’s grace changes us from within, but also accepting how God’s grace works through us.

The Corinthians were very thankful for God’s gracious spiritual gifts that changed them from within, but now Paul wants them to see how God’s grace can work through them. Specifically in how their financial gifts could help other struggling Christian communities. Paul has a church in mind that he would like the Corinthians to support. The church in Jerusalem. If the church in Corinth financially supported the church in Jerusalem it would further unify Jewish and Gentile Christians. Their support could further exemplify how Jesus unites people even if they are vastly different from each other. Historically, there was a lot of animosity between Gentiles and Jews.

Looking more at the context of both Jesus and Paul’s day I’m struck by how true it is that the more things change the more things stay the same. We tend to see those in poverty as having done that to themselves. We praise God for what Jesus Christ has done for us and how in Jesus Christ we are forgiven and therefore are new creations. But notice our praises are about what Jesus has done for me. As renewed people in Jesus Christ our eyes should be open to how God is at work in others and how God invites us to be a part of that work. This is what motivated the church in Macedonia. They wanted to support what God was already doing even if it was in and through people they’ve never met and never would meet. While they did not have the same amount of wealth as the good Samaritan they still went beyond what they could give to serve others in need. 

So what are we to glean from this passage? I think this passage wants us to ask the question: “Have we become more generous after coming to know the generosity of Jesus Christ?”  And are we wiling to give selflessly over a period of time like the good Samaritan even if it’s to people we will never meet which was the case for the church in Macedonia. Are we willing to not just give to individuals but to ministries, organizations and those with the power to help cultivate a system of support for those in need that is more in line with God’s gracious giving?

This begins with knowing and experiencing the generosity of Jesus Christ first. And what we do with our wealth shows how we are responding to the most generous gift of all. How Jesus gave himself on the cross for all so we could have new life and be a part of how Jesus continues to give new life to all. When that happens our faith moves from a “me and Jesus” mentality to “How does Jesus continue to redeem others and how is Jesus inviting me to be a part of that?” When we do that we continue to become more of the people God calls us to be. People who don’t make themselves the center of their wealth, but people who use their resources to help those in need – even if it comes at a great cost to themselves.