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St. Paul on Helping those in Need

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 25, 2014

St. Paul never seems to have done anything by halves, whether he was persecuting or preaching Christ. The same was true of the manner in which he challenged other Christians to live the Gospel. This came home to me again last night while reading the eighth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, when he encourages them to be generous in relieving the needs of the Christians in Macedonia.

“I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened,” he says, “but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality” (2 Cor 8:13-14). Then in the next verse, Paul cites Scripture to drive home his advice: “As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’”

This citation comes from the Book of Exodus. When the Israelites were hungry, God gave them Manna from Heaven, and He told Moses how the people were to gather it up. Each gatherer was to collect one omer (a little over two liters) for each person he had to feed. It was to be gathered up six days a week, with a double measure gathered the day before the Sabbath. It was not be saved over to the next day, except for the Sabbath. When, contrary to instructions, it was saved overnight, it spoiled immediately, but it did not spoil on the Sabbath. All of this is recounted in Exodus, chapter 16.

So mostly the Israelites went out and gathered the Manna each morning as Moses directed, some gathering less and some more: “But when they measured it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; each gathered according to what he could eat” (Ex 16:18). Here, then, is St. Paul’s reference.

It would seem that the great Apostle to the Gentiles is calling attention to two things. First, in the sight of God there is something fundamentally askew in our common human practice of “unequal gathering.” Second, St. Paul sees it as a fundamental matter of human equality for Christians to redress the imbalance in this daily “gathering”. In the present case, it is a matter of the Corinthian Christians helping those whose “gathering” has been disrupted when their own “gathering” is proceeding apace.

I do not propose anything doctrinaire here. We have no way to monitor the daily gathering of others, nor can we completely control even our own gathering, so much of which depends on circumstances. But we can avoid greed in our gathering, and we have many opportunities to redress imbalances. The striking thing is that St. Paul uses the image of absolute equality in the Book of Exodus as his standard for moral counsel.

Again, St. Paul did not do things by halves. But perhaps we too often do exactly that. It is something to think about.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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