Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (2 Corinthians 8:1-15) transports me to the 11th century Chartreuse Mountains in the Artois province of northern France, where a community of monks, the order of St. Bruno, devote themselves to prayer. Their motto is The cross is steady while the world is turning. Their turning world involved Pope Urban starting the first Crusade, the beginning of the investiture controversy, and the emergence of the Scholasticism movement. Bruno’s hermits did not involve themselves in any of this; they simply prayed for the world. And they did one other thing that merited a footnote in the history books; they discovered the first artesian wells (the name coming from the location, Artois). I’m no geologist, but the best I can understand is that these wells come from aquifers that are under high pressure, causing the water to rise instead of following its normal downward flow. These subterranean streams are confined between impermeable materials, rocks or clay, and this creates the pressure. When the pressure is great enough, and when a space is opened up through the impermeable rock, the water can rise all the way to the surface. This is what happened when the monks drilled that first well; they found they needed no rope and bucket or other means to pump the water out of the ground. It bubbled up. Today, people around the world enjoy the cold, pure water flowing up through spaces that release the pressure from artesian aquifers.
The cross was steady while the world was turning for the Apostle Paul and his pen pals in the Corinthians church. Today’s passage tells us that he, like St. Bruno’s monks, also had something of a well-drilling discovery, although it was a spiritual aquifer that he tapped into. He was writing to the congregation at Corinth about the generosity (in the KJV, liberality), of the Macedonian churches, as part of his campaign to raise funds for the struggling church at Jerusalem. Paul had tapped into these Macedonians, who were confined and under severe pressures of poverty, and in so doing enabled their joy to overflow as they welled up in rich generosity. The picture of artesian water rushing to the surface comes to mind in Paul’s description of their desire to help: they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service. Paul commended this wellspring of generosity and sharing as a model to the Corinthians, who excelled in everything else, faith, theology, speech. All they lacked was the generous spirit.
Paul’s desire in all of this, he said, was not to put a hardship on the Corinthian people, but that there might be equality. He said it a second time, the goal is equality. These are shocking words to our culture, steeped as we are in libertarian values, and comfortable as we are with growing gaps between haves and have nots. It reminds me of something I had to do with my well this past year, when it got contaminated with some bacteria. I had to go through a process of shocking the well. I don’t know where the phrase comes from, but you shock a well by putting chlorine tablets in it to purify the water. I think Paul’s words serve to shock the well of our contemporary faith community in America. Equality is the goal. Shocking. He goes on to give even more shocking words, as he quotes from Exodus: Those who gathered did not have too much, and those who gathered little did not have too little. That sounds downright communist, as Karl Marx echoed these words with his famous dictum: from each according to his ability and to each according to his need. Shocking words. Hopefully shocking enough to purify the waters of salvation we have contaminated with a value system that concentrates both wealth and poverty. And hopefully, as the severe impermeabilities of our world continue to pressure us from all sides, we will find an opening of faith, as the Macedonians did, and overflow with joy and generosity, with equality as our common desire.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.