29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Being Formed in His Word

Old Woman Praying, Arent de Gelder, c. 1700

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.'”
(Luke 18:1–5)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Timothy 3:14-4:2
October 16, 2022

We continue today with our reading of the 2nd letter of St. Paul to Timothy. We are approaching it as an epistolary novel. Although the author is not St. Paul, he is writing not long after Paul’s death to people known by Paul and the community. His overall aim is to show that Paul’s gospel can continue without Paul but not without the ideas that Paul believed and the virtues he lived. One of the advantages of this novel approach is that it shows us the importance of a personal relationship with those with whom we wish to share the good news.

This is emphasized in this week’s reading by stark contrasts. This chapter begins with the clear warning:

But understand this:
there will be terrifying times in the last days.

(2 Ti 3:1)

Paul and his contemporaries believed that the LORD would return soon and initiate the kingdom. Although kingdom is a word essential to the Synoptic gospels, it is not often used in Paul. Nonetheless it reflects a common Jewish belief, God has promised that the good would be rewarded and the evil punished for all to see. It is obvious that this does not occur in this world. Therefore, the Jews who we have come to call Pharisees developed the belief that there must be an afterlife. This is not because we are so wonderful but to prove that the LORD is just, and his word is trustworthy. It was believed that when the Messiah came the graves of all would be opened and the just would be separated from the unjust. We see this most clearly in the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25.

This was serious business—who one followed was of the greatest importance—so Paul spends the next nine verses outlining the faults of his main opponents, usually referred to as false teachers. These include vices that ranged from being generally ungrateful to being disobedient to parents to not operating in public to the persistent evil or being money hungry.

To this he compares himself who endured

Persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me
in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra,
persecutions that I endured.
Yet from all these things the Lord delivered me.
In fact, all who want to live religiously
in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But wicked people and charlatans will go
from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.

(2 Ti 3:11–13)

Our passage begins here:

But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed,
because you know from whom you learned it

(2 Ti 3:14)

Paul is reminding Timothy of their personal relationship and what he should have observed in him. It is a stunning gamble. He has told him and the other early Christians that if they become false teachers, they will become rich; if they follow the true gospel, they will be persecuted. The author is asking all his readers including you and me to look at the great Christians in our lives. They rarely have easy lives, but he is willing to bet that they are the most compelling people.

We know that Paul knew his Timothy’s family and that he was raised as a Christian. This is important because most of the letter’s readers will also be born Christians and Paul is showing that to for children to keep the faith they must know the scriptures.

And that from infancy you have known the sacred scriptures,
which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation
through faith in Christ Jesus

(2 Ti 3:15)

Faith is ultimately the gift of the Holy Spirit but it must be set out for us so we can learn from it and grow with it. As he has seen, the false teachers have taught that salvation does not rest on Jesus and so it is important to have the testimony of the saints to refute them. As they are inspired by the LORD their writings are the word of God

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching,
for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness

(2 Ti 3:16)

Scripture is certainly what we have come to call the Old Testament, but is includes for this author the writings of Paul who we have seen this letter certainly reflects.

It is the basis of teaching: teaching must be in the name of the Church and reflect what has been accepted by the Church. His main opponents, the false teachers, had connections with Judaism and so they must know the Jewish scriptures in order to debate them. Within the community itself, there will be those who will stray from the way and the scriptures are the guide to helping them return. The word for correction in fact can mean rebuilding, scripture helps rebuild a sinner’s relationship with the LORD and community,

This is training in righteousness. Paul states continuously that what we believe will affect how we live, and scripture brings out the best in us. The implications are better stated in the next line.

So that one who belongs to God may be competent,
equipped for every good work

(2 Ti 3:17)

Christians require formation. This means exposure to the truth and acting in love over a considerable time. This will truly form the foundation of a Christian that will allow him or her to do anything what is necessary to be and do good.

Once a person is formed, he or she may be commissioned to proclaim the gospel:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingly power:
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage
through all patience and teaching

(2 Ti 4:1–2)

Commissioned does not necessarily require ordination. As Pope Francis has recently reminded us in his reconstruction of the Vatican bureaucracy, leadership in the church comes from baptism and we hope competence, not ordination. Who proclaims and leads however is not a personal decision. The individual Christian may feel called to leadership, but the church must accept it.

Thus, Paul as the leader of his community charges, calls Timothy to be an apostle. Following good Jewish custom, he has two witnesses but being Christian, they are God (the Father) and Jesus. Although Paul is acutely aware of the necessity of good administration, he does not mention it here. He begins with his constant theme throughout both 1 and 2 Timothy, persistence and courage. Sometimes the word will be wanted desperately and accepted eagerly, but more often it will not. Then the leader must show his or her learning of scripture and understanding of human nature to know to use persuasive arguments to help people to understand. If someone has severed relations with the community by sin, to know how to show them the error of their ways, but also to know how to welcome them back. The false teachers of his own community but also many Greco-Roman teachers as well were known for being harsh and haughty, the Christian leader and teacher must be encouraging affirming and always patient.

Paul has already told us that he thinks these are the last days and that they are terrifying. There are references to judging the living and the dead and the return of the Lord in his kingly power. This as we have seen was a common Jewish expectation. This was certainly believed but also would have made this section more dramatic and its concerns more immediate.

We still await the Lord’s return but most of us do not expect it in our lifetimes. Yet as we look around us, we see many difficulties and problems. In some ways, we know that the world we once knew and may wish to return to is over and we must move ahead. The light of the gospel the good news of Jesus Christ is needed now in a special way. Paul asks us the same question to us as he did Timothy and those who read this letter 2,000 years ago: do I wish to be formed in his word to be a messenger of his gospel?