27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Being the Presence of Jesus in the World

Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied,
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
(Luke 17:5–6)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14
October 2, 2022

We begin today our readings from the second letter to Timothy. There is much that we do not know about this letter. As with the other pastoral epistles we are not certain if it was written by St. Paul, nor do we know if it was written before or after what we have come to call the 1st letter to Timothy. They share some of the same details but do not refer to each other. They also are different in tone. This letter is much more personal. The author is not principally concerned about the structure of the churches after the death of the first generation of Apostles. Rather, he expresses his pleasure in the spiritual development of Timothy. Whether or not this was written by St. Paul, the virtues it expresses are clear and as valuable today as in the first century. We will also suggest below that the form in which they are expressed is particularly effective.

Today’s selection is near the beginning of the letter but comes after thanksgiving. An educated writer of the day would always express his gratitude. Paul, and as with 1st Timothy we use Paul for convenience sake, follows this convention but bends it for his own purpose:

I am grateful to God, whom I worship
with a clear conscience as my ancestors did,
as I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day.
I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy, as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you

(Ti 1:3–5)

He is in jail and wishes to show that he is innocent of the charges and is still worshipping the God of his people. He is so confident in his relationship with the LORD that he can express gratitude even while in chains. He also shows at the very beginning that he knows Timothy well and has a close relationship with him and his family. Timothy was not his convert but was brought up in Chistian family. He will ask him, and us, to create the same environment to pass on the faith.

Thus, we begin today with:

For this reason, I remind you
to stir into flame the gift of God
that you have through the imposition of my hands.

(2 Ti 1:6)

Because Timothy already has “sincere faith” he needs to pray to develop it further. In 1^{st} Timothy, the author wrote that it was the council of elders who laid hands upon Timothy (1 Ti 4:14). Here the special connection between Paul and Timothy is emphasized. This does not necessarily mean that either Timothy or Paul were priests in our sense of the word. Rabbis, who were laymen, would lay hands on those they would send on mission. Paul will be instructing Timothy on his mission.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.

(2 Ti 1:7)

Jews expected that if the LORD wanted someone to do something special, he would give them the wisdom and power to accomplish the task. We read in Isaiah the words Jesus chose to begin his ministry in Nazareth:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly,
to heal the brokenhearted.

(Isa 61:1)

This is expressed as strength and courage:

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid

(Ps 27)

Most mostly as love:

Hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured
into our hearts through the Holy Spirit
that has been given to us.

(Ro 5:5)

The word translated here as self-control might be best seen as prudence and balance. The spirit can unleash powerful forces which should not be diminished but must be used wisely.

Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

(2 Ti 1:8)

Most of us seek earthy gain as a sign of success. Paul is suspicious and rather than list the benefits he has received from his ministry, he emphasizes the sufferings he has endured. He asks those around him to compare him with those he calls the false teachers who seek to diminish the sufferings that taking the cross of Christ will require. Paul is a living example that the strength will be given to those who ask for it.

Several verses follow (9-11) in which Paul reminds Timothy of the beauty and power of the Gospel. This explains why he, Paul, and Timothy should be willing to suffer for the good news:

On this account I am suffering these things;
but I am not ashamed,
for I know him in whom I have believed
and am confident that he is able to guard
what has been entrusted to me until that day

(2 Ti 1:12)

Our passage continues with:

Take as your norm the sound words
that you heard from me,
in the faith and love
that are in Christ Jesus.

(2 Ti 1:13)

Paul assumes that Timothy will not only experience great challenges as he did but new ones. Norm does not mean simply reproducing Paul but to build on Paul’s legacy. Be motivated not by a desire for gain but by trust in and the love of Jesus Christ.

We do not do this alone but through the Holy Spirit whom he has already invoked

Guard this rich trust
with the help of the holy Spirit
that dwells within us

(2 Ti 1:14)

Riches can mean beautiful and true beauty is not financial gain. It comes through the Spirit not through our own efforts. As throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is said to dwell within, which means inside of each of us and within our community, the church. For Paul, the disciple must have the Spirit in order to lead the community and to grow in faith.

The author seems to know Timothy and his family so well that it seems impossible that it was not written by Paul. Most commentators however think that for reasons of timing and language this is unlikely. It has been suggested by the great American Scripture scholar Raymond Brown that there is an alternative. He suggests that the letter was written not long after Paul’s death by someone who knew both Paul and Timothy. The biographical details would be correct if dramatized.

Second Timothy resembles an epistolary novel, that is, a novel composed of letters. Dracula, Frankenstein, and C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters are epistolary novels and as 2nd Timothy give the appearance of intimacy while expressing the opinions and beliefs of the author.

With 2nd Timothy, we learn what a good leader is and are encouraged to see if we can be one ourselves. Through the synod, we are exploring where the Church must go to be the effective presence of Jesus in the world. Is this letter revealing to you that you are another Timothy, called to follow the spirit in the world by leading in the Church?