32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Guided by Jesus

St. Charles Stained Glass Window

Center stained-glass window of St. Charles Borromeo parish
(About this Image)

The Church asks us to understand that Christ,
who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again.
When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come,
at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts,
bringing with him the riches of his grace.
(Pastoral Letter of St. Charles Borromeo )

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5
November 6, 2022

Last week, we began reading the “Second Letter to the Thessalonians” at Mass. This letter presents many complicated technical issues that may obscure a remarkably simple message about the afterlife, indeed, a very traditional one. Many Jews, most noticeably the Pharisees, believed that the Messiah would come, all the dead would rise from their graves and be divided between the good and bad. The 12 tribes of Israel would be restored and there would be an earthy reign of Justice. The early Church, most brilliantly but not exclusively St. Paul, adapted but did not fundamentally change this schema. Jesus would return, the dead would rise and be judged, but as he is more than the Messiah, all humanity would be brought into the kingdom which he would rule. Those who read this letter would have agreed with this. The problem was as Jesus has already been with us, why is he waiting so long to return and begin the kingdom and what are the consequences? A fuller account of this may be found in last week’s commentary.

Although we are uncertain who wrote this letter or when and to whom it was written, it reflects the concerns and the language of the first Letter to the Thessalonians, which no one doubts is from Paul. The author used Paul’s language from that letter and indeed its format. We cannot take the time to review this in detail and will make only one reference to it, but the author assumes that his audience has read 1 Thessalonians and agrees with the basic world view.

Last week’s reading ended with:

We ask you, brothers, with regard
to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our assembling with him,
not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly,
or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,”
or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us
to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

(2 Th 2:1–2)

The author is reminding his listeners “not to be shaken,” that is defected, from what they have been taught. He sees this as the work of the devil, literally. As we will see next week, the devil fostered the belief that the Lord has returned so that our actions no longer had consequences and Christians could do as they wished. This was less direct immorality as laziness and sloth. The Christian however must never cease to act humbly and charitably. This requires our commitment to the tradition as interpreted by Paul. The section immediately before our reading this week states:

To this end he has also called you through our gospel
to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast
to the traditions that you were taught,
either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

(2 Th 2:14–15)

Jesus is at work here and now. Our actions are important up to the minute Jesus returns whether that was in 70 AD or 7000 AD.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts
and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

(2 Th 2:16–17)

Although Jesus is not with us in the same way as he was before the resurrection, he is still supporting and guiding us. “Good Hope” is a technical phrase that would have been familiar to pagans as well as Jews. It means that if we lived a good life we can expect, have reasonable hope, that this will be recognized at what Catholic Christians call “the Last Judgement.” Christian hope is greater than optimism, but we can experience it as such. Also, we cannot lose sight that this occurs not because of anything we can do ourselves, but is through God’s Grace. It is aimed at the person’s heart. For ancient people this is the center of our being, body, soul, thought, and feeling. God’s grace causes our conversion which will be reflected in our every “good deed and word.”

As noted, the author uses the language of 1st Thessalonians as much as possible. We could easily line up the last two chapters of 2nd Thessalonians with sections of 1st Thessalonians, we will however provide only the example below.

Now may our God and Father himself
and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.
And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness
that you may be blameless before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

(1 Th 3:11–13)

After stating the reasons for hope and the means to show one’s dedication to God, Paul will ask for prayer, but his reasons are not what we might first imagine.

Finally, brothers, pray for us,
so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified,
as it did among you, and that we may be delivered
from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.

(2 Th 3:1–2)

“Finally” here does not mean the end, there is much to go, but might be better translated as “Now to other matters.” Paul is asking for prayers but not that he will avoid persecution but that the “Word of the Lord,” the gospel, may continue to spread. The image of “Speeding forward” would have brought Old Testament images to the minds of born Jews but, as now, everyone would have appreciated the reference to athletics. You need to reach the goal to have the experience of being glorified. Paul wants others to discover what this audience has already accepted.

We are not certain who the “perverse and wicked people” are. However, wherever the gospel is preached there will be those who oppose it.

But the Lord is faithful;
he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.
We are confident of you in the Lord
that what we instruct you,
you both are doing and will continue to do.

(2 Th 3:3–4)

Paul was not that happy with the audience for this letter. Rhetoric, however, demanded that he find something good to say to them. He reminds them that the Lord is always faithful to his covenant and that if they trust in the Lord, they will be safe from the evil one. The safest thing they can do is to follow what Paul has taught them.

Paul has done this before with “difficult congregations.” See below his advice to the Corinthians:

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters,
of the good news that I proclaimed to you,
which you in turn received, in which also you stand,
through which also you are being saved,
if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—
unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance
what I in turn had received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures,

(1 Co 15:1–3)

This section, although not the letter, ends with an exhortation to allow our hearts, our very being, to be guided by the Lord Jesus. Note how he emphasizes “endurance.” We know that the Lord will return but we know not when. This world will try our patience, but Jesus is worth any trial.