The Pharisee and the Publican,
James Tissot, c. 1886-1894, Brooklyn Museum
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18
October 23, 2022
We will complete our reading of 2nd Timothy this week. We have suggested that it was written by an associate of St. Paul soon after the apostle’s death. The author mentions many people who we can presume were real and that they and their stories were known to the Pauline community. We have approached the letter as a novel in the form of a letter. This does not mean that the incidents related did not happen to Paul and the original readers were not unaware of them.
This is also the end of the letter, and the author will bring the many themes that he has examined throughout the letter together. The chapter begins with Paul commissioning Timothy as a church leader:
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)
In the letter, Paul has been clear that a Christian, particularly a Christian leader, must proclaim the gospel and guide the people according to that Gospel. The Gospel is truly good news, it is precious beyond value yet key sections are often feared and watered down. Thus, the preacher/leader must be persistent and recognize that there will be pushback. The leader must also recognize that correction as well as encouragement comes with the job.
The challenges will be many, and Timothy will need to develop the virtues he has observed in Paul:
But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances;
put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist;
fulfill your ministry.
(2 Ti 4:5)
Today’s selection begins with:
For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
(2 Ti 4:6)
“For” links this next section to the former. He will need to accept his commissioning and attain the virtues it requires now because Paul is to be martyred and Timothy will be needed to continue his mission. He uses the image of libation. Paul employed it in his own letters. A good example is from the letter to the Philippians: “But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith.” (Php 2:17)
Libation has a specific meaning. In sacrifices, a precious liquid is often squandered—poured away, not drunk—as a sign that everything belongs to God. Among Jews, pouring blood on the altar was a sign that all life belonged to God. (Exod 24:6).
Thus, “departure” here is a reference to Paul’s upcoming death. This letter would have been read after Paul had been martyred, his blood literally flowed for Jesus.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
(2 Ti 4:7)
Paul has used athletic images many times as we have repeatedly seen. Particularly appropriate is a quote in the Acts of the Apostles:
“But I do not count my life of any value to myself,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received
from the Lord Jesus,
to testify to the good news of God’s grace.”
and in Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained this
or have already reached the goal;
but I press on to make it my own,
because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;
but this one thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind
and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal
for the prize of the heavenly call
of God in Christ Jesus.
Let those of us then who are mature
be of the same mind;
and if you think differently about anything,
this too God will reveal to you.
Only let us hold fast to what we have attained
The word we translate as faith, pistis, has the general meaning of trust. Here it means Paul’s trustworthiness, he has made a promise and he has acted in good faith and fulfilled his obligations.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day,
and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
(2 Ti 4:8)
A crown was given to the winner of athletic events. Here the reward is righteousness, being in a good relationship with the LORD. As we have seen many times, most recently in last week’s passage, Jesus’ return would be to begin the kingdom in this world. As we see in Matthew 25, the good and the bad, the sheep and the goats would be separated. To fulfill the biblical promises of justice, it would be important that everyone would know each other’s fate. Thus, a visible crown awaits Paul, he knows that he will receive it because of his faithfulness and assures those who will follow him that they too will receive it. They have in common that they longed for the return of the Lord. They desired it more than what the world and the false teachers in the church were offering.
The author next includes a section which we do not read in church. It gives the background of the people around Paul. As we have noted these people most likely lived and these incidents occurred. They are included to bring to life the message of the letter, that if we live a life like Paul’s, we will be saved like Paul.
Do your best to come to me soon,
for Demas, in love with this present world,
has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica;
Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
Only Luke is with me.
Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry.
I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas,
also the books, and above all the parchments.
Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm;
the Lord will pay him back for his deeds.
You also must beware of him,
for he strongly opposed our message.
(2 Ti 4:9–15)
After this break, the author compares the just judge Jesus, with the unjust judge, the emperor. The original readers may have believed, with great justification, that the emperor who judged Paul was Nero. The trial would certainly have been conducted in Nero’s name.
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf,
but everyone deserted me.
May it not be held against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength
(2 Ti 4:16–17)
Roman society was constructed on clientage. People would pledge themselves to more powerful people who among other things would support them—appearing with them—in court. A paraclete is someone who stands alongside a person to strengthen him. All Paul had and all Paul needed was Jesus to attain his goal.
So that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it
(2 Ti 4:17)
Through the power of God Paul was able to preach the gospel to the emperor himself and thus complete his mission
And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom
(2 Ti 4:17–18)
Rescued here does not mean from the sword, he will be martyred, but from failure. He was able to complete his mission and be safe in the heavenly kingdom.
This reflects the story of Daniel in the lions’ den but also Psalm 22. To quote just part:
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted and you rescued them….
You relied on the LORD—let him deliver you;
if he loves you, let him rescue you….
Deliver me from the sword.
(Ps 22:5, 9, 21)
He can then sing with confidence:
To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
(2 Tim 4:18)
The letter continues for three more verses, mentioning those who have been kind to him. He ends then with examples of faithfulness and encouragement. Living the Gospel may be difficult, but it brings peace, salvation, and faithful friends.
This is a letter of great importance for today. Even 20 years ago, we might have read it and determined to pray harder for bishops and priests. Yet it speaks of leaders in general, not only priests. As we look at the needs of the Church in general and St. Charles in particular, we should ask if the author is speaking to us?
Leadership in the church is changing, it will certainly be less clerical and male. I hope it will be in many ways more professional. There will be much for many people from many sources to examine. So, take heart from Timothy: The Lord will ask more from us than we think we have to offer, but will give us more than we can imagine we can receive.