There was a village deep in forest isolated by the surrounding hills. During the rainy season, a sickness spread among the people. At first, there were only mild symptoms, but as time went on, the sickness progressed and those who had been infected were quickly becoming severely ill. The town elders decided that they needed help from the doctor in the next village. However, this village was a full day’s travel away. By their estimation, some of the villagers would die before the medicine could make it back.
There were two young men in the village who were known to be the fastest and most athletic among them. Both of them knew the hill country well. If the sick villagers were to have any chance, these two young men would have to traverse the hills as quickly as they could to get the medicine back to the village in time. As they started out, they were full of energy and resolve. But somewhere along the path, a seed of competition began to sprout. There would be glory to be gained for the one who returned with the medicine first – glory that would last their lifetime. As this seed of competition sprouted, its roots drove deep in search of power creating a divide between them. Both were confident in their knowledge of the hill country and this confidence, fed by selfish thirst, grew into a decision to part ways. Each took the path that they believed would get them there and back before the other resulting in their arrival home to a glory they would not have to share.
It was not long until one of the boys got lost. He eventually made it to the village, but only after wasting hours trying to find his way. When he arrived, he learned the other boy had made it much earlier and was already on his way back home with the medicine. Defeated and full of shame, he wondered if he could ever return home. The boy who had successfully gotten the medicine was renewed with vigor and energy by the thought of the waiting glory. He knew that not only would he make it back first, but that he could do it so quickly that the tale of his heroics would become even greater. But, his speed brought with it carelessness and he soon stepped into a deep hole. He was able to keep the medicine intact when he fell, but it did not matter. His leg was now broken. As he laid there, he cried out, but no one was there to help.
We are those two boys. With every problem, we seek to solve, somewhere along the way we get bogged down in our own opinions and grandeur. The bigger picture gets blocked out by our arrogance and greed leaving us turned around in a swirl of unending discourse. Like those two young men, we are too often on an adventure in missing the point.1
When Paul found out that some of the poor in Jerusalem needed help, he went to work to solve the problem. Some of the Christians in Corinth were in a position to assist and, at first, seemed eager to do so. Yet, for whatever reason, they did not finish what they started. So, Paul, with some finesse (or passive-aggressiveness) leads them back to the bigger picture.2
More precisely, the two-way street of equality. Because equality only exists where it is given and received – by its nature it must be shared. Paul was not asking the Corinthians to take on financial stress so that others could be relieved. Instead, he called them to an economy where the plenty of some met the needs of others. This was not a simply a “rich/poor” thing. The Christians in Macedonia were poor, but creating an economy of equality means that we all have a willing responsibility according to our means. So, they gave too.3
If the two young men would have reminded themselves along the way, that the goal was getting the medicine home, not the glory of it, their village would have been saved. In this instance, Paul reminded the Corinthians of the bigger picture: “That there might be equality.”
We too have lost our way and fallen into debilitating holes as we move headstrong down our chosen paths overgrown with the rhetoric of animosity and winning. As followers of the way of Jesus, we are called to step out of these ruts of party lines and media personalities. For too long, animosity, winning, self-perseverance and the like have entangled us along the way leaving us immobilized and ineffective. Every day we are called to step off our man-made paths and climb high enough to regain our orientation. From here, in view of the “one who became poor so that we may be rich” 4 may we seek to solve our greatest problems.
1Stolen from a title of a book by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo.
2 2 Corinthians 8:8-15
3 2 Corinthians 8:3
4 2 Corinthians 8:9