For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)
This passage is beautiful, inspiring, flowing with grace. Also I don’t really know what it means.
Like, really, what does this mean? So Jesus was rich, right? But not literally rich. He was in a blessed state at the right hand of God—that is, he was spiritually rich. But then for our sake he became poor. But not spiritually poor. That feels blasphemous, Jesus was spiritually awesome. He was born to Mary and Joseph who were literally poor. But because of his literal poverty, we are going to become rich. But not literally rich, right? More like spiritually rich? At this point I’m lost.
This is what scholars would call a “chiasm.” In grammar, a chiasm means a sentence shaped like an X. So the verse goes: rich, poor, poor, rich. The outsides match, and the insides match. And that’s what an X is shaped like. Sort of. (If I were in charge of biblical scholarship, I would call this a “sandwich” instead of a chiasm. But that’s neither here nor there.)
Paul’s words here are more beautiful than instructive, more intended to be inspirational than theological. There’s a flow to the language, a movement from here to there and from there back to here again. There’s a certain sandwich-y-ness that makes me love it, that makes me want it to be true even if I don’t fully understand. And that is, in the end, what elevates mere words to the heights of holy scripture.
God: Thank you for the beauty of scripture.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.