Thirteenth Sunday – B

In the mid to late forties, Jerusalem suffered a famine. When Paul met with the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem, about the year 47, they asked Paul to bear in mind the needy: “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along” (Gal 2:10).

In writing to the Romans, Paul describes this collection: “Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution … ” (Rom 15:25-28).

In today’s second reading, 2 Cor 8: 7, 9, 13-15, Paul urges the Christians in Corinth to contribute to this collection. He urges them to excel in “this act of grace” (2 Cor 8:7). St. Thomas Aquinas comments: “He calls this a grace, because every good we do is from God’s grace” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 281).

He informs them of the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia who were generous, despite their own poverty (2 Cor 8:3). Paul writes: “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Cor 8:5).

Thomas reflects: “He also commends their generosity as to the order of giving, because they not only gave what they owned, but they first gave themselves. For this should be the order of giving, namely, that a man be first acceptable to God, for if a man is not pleasing to God, his gifts are not acceptable: ‘And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering’ (Gen. 4:4).”  (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 289).

Paul uses the example of Christ: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich”

Thomas comments: “This is called grace, because whatever the Son of God assumed of our punishments, all must be imputed to grace, because he was not anticipated by anyone’s goodness, or compelled by anyone’s power, or induced by any necessity of his own. But it is grace, because for your sake he became poor [needy]. He says, needy, which is more than poor; for a needy person is one who not only has very little, but is destitute; but a poor man is one who has a little. Therefore, to signify the extent of his poverty, he says, he became poor [needy], namely, in temporal things: ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Lk. 9:58). He was made needy not from necessity but willingly, because that grace would not then be a grace” (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 294).

Jesus was rich and poor: “He says, though He was rich, namely, in spiritual goods: ‘The same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him’ (Rom. 10:12). He says, being, and not “having been,” lest it seem that Christ lost His spiritual riches when He assumed poverty. For He assumed this poverty in such a way that He did not lose those inestimable riches.  Rich in spiritual things, poor in temporal things” (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 294).

Jesus chose poverty: “The reason He willed to be made needy is added, when he says, so that by His poverty you might become rich, i.e., that through His poverty in temporal things, you might become rich in spiritual things” (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 295).  

Thomas affirms that Christ did this for two reasons, for an example and for a sacrament: “For an example, indeed, because if Christ loved poverty, we also should love it because of His example. But by loving poverty in temporal things, we are made rich in spiritual things: ‘Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?’ (Jas. 2:5). This is why he says, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 295). 

Jesus also chose poverty as a sacrament: “For the sacrament, however, because everything Christ did or endured was for our sake. Hence, just as by the fact that he endured death, we were delivered from eternal death and restored to life, so by the fact that he suffered need in temporal things, we have been delivered from need in spiritual things and made rich in spiritual things: ‘That in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge’ (1 Cor. 1:5) (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 295). 

Thomas believes that Paul was urging their generosity for their own sakes: “He says therefore: considering this benefit, I give my advice, i.e., I urge you to give alms not only for the benefit of the saints in Jerusalem but also for your benefit: And this is because it is best for you. For the good of piety is more beneficial to the doer than to the one to whom it is done, because the doer obtains a spiritual benefit from it, but the recipient a temporal one. And just as the spiritual is preferred to the temporal, in works of piety the profit to the giver is preferred to the benefit of the recipient” (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 297). 

Thomas recalls the words of First John: “Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18) and Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Paul urges an equality, as Thomas reflects; “As if to say: I do not seek your affliction, but an equality, namely, that your abundance supply their want… An equality of proportion is explained in the following way, and better: you Corinthians have an abundance of temporal goods, but the saints of Jerusalem an abundance of spiritual goods. I wish, therefore, that as they are sustained by your alms, so may you be enriched by their prayers to God. For just as they are not as rich in your temporal goods as you are rich, so neither are you as rich in their spiritual goods as they are. And so he says: but by an equality in the present time your abundance of earthly things should supply their want of earthly good, so that their abundance of spiritual things may supply your want: ‘If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?’ (1 Cor. 9:11)” (Commentary of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 296-297).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John may be found on the

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