Parable of the Unjust Servant,
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Timothy 2:1–8
September 18, 2022
Last week, we began to read the first letter of St Paul to Timothy. The letter presumes that this is the same Timothy that Paul met in Lystra (Ac. 16:1-2) and is now his legate in Ephesus. It was a major city in the empire and was a fertile place for the gospel to grow. It was also a place where other religious concepts had taken root. Paul is instructing, perhaps better mentoring, Timothy on how to approach this wonderful opportunity but one fraught with danger as well.
We saw last week that there were false teachers who were leading some of the Christians away from what Paul had taught. They were most likely born Jews who were baptized Christian but now used Greek techniques of Bible interpretation and had many Greco-Roman assumptions. We will see some of these reflected in today’s reading but mostly Paul will concentrate on how the Christians should interact with the wider society.
Official Roman religion was “performance based” not “faith based.” You were a good Roman if you offered your sacrifices to the gods and emperor. Failure to do so was the capital crime of atheism. They did not care if someone believed in another set of gods, only that he or she offered a sacrifice to the gods who protected Rome. The Jews were a special case and were offered an exception but, as Christians and Jews separated, Christians would have been considered atheists. Further complicating matters was the gospel itself. As Jesus said in his opening homily in Luke:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
He was of course quoting Isaiah, but the Romans would have rightly heard something new. The Romans did not kill Jesus because they thought him a heretic, they killed him because they thought he was a revolutionary. Indeed, they were correct, but every New Testament writer has tried to prove that Jesus required that one has to change one’s life and that this would not destroy the state and society but would improve it. The scriptures are very clear on this. Matthew tells us:
Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
John is as explicit:
“My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world,
my attendants would be fighting to keep me
from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
Two weeks ago, we read about Paul’s relationship with the slave Onesimus and his master Philemon. Paul was as delicate as Matthew and John in showing that belief in Jesus was not a threat to civil society. This was true throughout his letters. Paul wrote in Romans:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities;
for there is no authority except from God,
and those authorities that exist
have been instituted by God.
(see note 1 below)
Civil order was more than political. Greco-Roman philosophers would regularly produce “household codes” which explained where one was in one’s family. Paul is noted for (but may not have directly written) ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.’ (Col 3:18, see continuation with note 2) This letter eventually discussed the roles of fathers and sons, slaves and workman.
He is urging Timothy to do the same. After today’s reading, he will tell women that they are not to preach nor have power over a man (1 Timothy 2:9-15) and then the qualities of a bishop or deacon. (1 Timothy 3:1-16) The subjects might seem very different, but they both emphasize that the public face of the church must be discreet, peaceful, and modest. The basic intent was not to call attention to yourselves.
This has a civic and political aspect to it but note that it begins with prayer:
First, then, I ask that
supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings
be offered for everyone,
(1 Ti 2:1)
Timothy is to be a shepherd to his people and his first responsibility is to organize prayer. We are not certain about the differences among “Supplications, prayers, and petitions.” They all however ask God for something. It is also important that thanksgiving is immediately included. It is assumed that they have asked God for blessings and have received them. These prayers are offered not only for Christians but for everyone.
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.
(1 Ti 2:2)
It begins with the king. This is most specifically the emperor but includes local leaders as well. Roman colonialism used the power structures which were in place. The reason for this prayer was not to obtain any special position or favors but to live a peaceful life. Christians may not sacrifice to the gods but they were not wild religious fanatics. Dignity is a virtue of a good Roman life and indicates a desire to participate in it. Christians do not wish to live in a separate society but as and with Romans.
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth
(1 Ti 3–4)
This is not a philosophical principle but a divine command. Honoring the king to allow a peaceful life pleases God and of all the possibilities for God he chooses to use savior. A savior was chosen to redeem, buy back, a kidnapped relation. This is the title of God that emphasizes God’s intimate daily connection with us. Thus, salvation gives “knowledge of the truth.” The truth is Jesus himself and knowledge is a lived experience not simply intellectual insight. This is to contrast with the mystery religions, popular at the time, and the false teachers who we saw last week sought a hidden knowledge in “myths and genealogies.”
For there is one God.
There is also one mediator
between God and the human race,
Christ Jesus, himself human
(1 Ti 2:5)
Paul may be urging tact and caution, but he never denies the full reality, human and divine, of Jesus. There is only one God and one way to him. His contemporaries would have used the term mediator as an arbitrator who negotiated between two opposing parties to reach a common goal. Among the Jews, the mediator between God and humanity is interceding angels or Moses. Timothy is instructed to forcefully assert the only way to God, the only mediator, is Jesus:
who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time
(1 Ti 2:6)
He is a savior who did not ransom us by offering gold or jewels but his very life. We do not save ourselves we are saved by Jesus’s death and resurrection. This action is his “testimony”:
For this I was appointed preacher and apostle
(I am speaking the truth, I am not lying),
teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth
(1 Ti 2:7)
This testimony must continue but no one can choose himself to do it. Paul was appointed by God and now appoints Timothy to be preacher, apostle, and teacher.
Preacher comes from the word kēryx. It means herald. A person who announces what the king wants or that he is coming. An apostle is literally one who is sent. It assumes that one is sent with authority to act in the name of another. Paul is not one of the twelve but insists that he is as much sent as they were in this case to the Gentiles. This gives him the authority to choose and send Timothy.
We may think this very distant to us. We are now the establishment and may feel that other people must conform to our standards. Yet, perhaps not for long. The Pew Research Center has forecast that Christianity will be a minority religion in the United States by 2070. One reason perhaps is that Christians have been losing “the knowledge of the truth” as the lived experience Paul urged Timothy to preach. Many studies have shown that Americans’ political beliefs determine our religious ones more than the other way around. Why should religion not be jettisoned as superfluous?
To know Jesus is to know we really need him and him alone. Paul tells Timothy to start with worship and that this worship should be characterized by petition—asking God for what we need. We should remember this when we are dissatisfied, perhaps horrified, with our present political situation and leaders. Let us petition the Lord who alone is worthy of worship that we may have leaders worthy of honor.
- Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Ro 13:1–7).
- Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.