Sober words for a serious calling – Thursday, 24th week in ordinary time – 1Timothy 4:12-16

The epistle of St Paul to Timothy was written in a time that a wave of false teachings swept the church of Ephesus. Paul appointed Timothy to the office of ‘senior pastor’ to a very large church that he himself ministered to in Ephesus. The purpose was clear; to effectively combat the false teachings and their sources. As time passed by however, Timothy faced a challenge much broader than false teachers.

Timothy as Paul’s successor supervised leaders who were older than he; people who had previously been supervised by the great apostle himself. Some of these leaders were not very enthusiastic about being led by a youngster. In the first century, people up to the age of 40 were considered young. Many scholars believe Timothy was in his mid-thirties when he succeeded Paul. Most probably the false teachers also used Timothy’s young age as a weapon to underestimate his authority. The solution that Paul offered Timothy was to lead by example.

In the reading of today we hear sober words for a serious calling to an exemplary life style required of any church leader but in particular to Timothy. Timothy was clearly a stop gap arrangement for Paul truly desired to come back and minister to this group. It is for this reason that Paul says, “until I arrive..” In Paul we see an ardent minister who never ceases with his ministry. Paul could never conceive taking a holiday and we know that he never took a moment off even in prison to minister to those in need.

Paul asks Timothy to guard the deposit of faith but also to care for the public reading of scripture which was accompanied by an ‘exhorting’ or as we would call it, a homily and also to teach the sacred scriptures. These were practices followed in the Jewish synagogue and Paul wants the word of God not just to be alive but to thrive.

Paul acknowledges that Timothy was not just chosen because he passed a popularity contest in the community. It is quite evident that he was the object of jealousy from the elders who saw him as a new kid on the block. For Paul, Timothy has a gift which was passed on to him by the laying on of hands. This laying of hands was a direct link with Paul and the apostles. Timothy is not to neglect this gift.

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Title right, meaning wrong! – 24th Sunday in ordinary time – Mark 8:27-35

The Gospel of today tells us that Jesus is near Caesarea Philippi, a very Roman setting and once the limit of ancient Israel’s northward extension. Here he pops the question which almost seems like a public and personal opinion poll: “Who do people say that I am?” It seemed like such a casual question, almost like Jesus was asking for some feedback, “Oh, by the way, who do people say I am?” I think it takes a lot of guts to ask for such feedback. Imagine a priest announcing one Sunday morning that he is going to conduct an anonymous survey of what the congregants thinks of him or even worse if they think him to be a boring preacher.

So why does Jesus want to discuss his reputation, here at this borderland of Caesarea Philippi? Interestingly, Jesus asked this question twice in this text but with different focus groups. He wanted to know first who people thought he was and then who his disciples thought he was. Was Jesus having an identity crisis mid way through the Gospel of Mark? And I would not be wrong to think that because the stories leading up to this episode repeatedly emphasise the disciples’ ignorance and hardness of heart. In chapter 4 they ask: “who is this?” In Chapter 6 they mistake Jesus for a ghost.

The fact that we hang around with some one does not mean that we know them. Initial attraction, for most people, either to a cause or a person is based on perception and while we should not judge a book by its cover that’s often the case. So lets make one thing clear, Our Lord is not asking for self affirmation from the public because he plans to stand for the post of High Priest, he knew who he was but he also knew that this fact may not have been obvious to the rest of Israel, as was the case.

To Jesus’ question, we are told that the people offer John, Elijah, or one of the prophets as responses to Jesus’ question. They seem to have give sensible answers considering that John had just been executed and also their belief that it would be Elijah’s arrival that would usher in the Messiah. And then comes Peter calling Jesus ‘the Christ’.The word Christ has not appeared since the Gospel’s opening verse. So Peter’s claim, “You are the Christ,” is an astounding statement. Also, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus hasn’t done anything that looks particularly “Christ”-like. So, how did Peter make this claim?

Peter did answer correctly but did he understand what he had said? We now know that Peter did not understand the meaning of what he said because he goes on to rebuke Jesus when Christs’ understanding of what the Messiah is contradicts Peters understanding. Peter had got the title right but the meaning wrong. The title “Messiah” in Hebrew or “Christ” in Greek was associated in Jewish tradition with an anointed king, a royal figure from the line of David expected to come and free Israel from their Gentile oppressors, purify the people, and restore Israel’s independence and glory. Hence, Peter’s declaration could best be translated as “I think you’re the one who will purify our society, reestablish Israel’s supremacy among the nations, and usher in a new era of peace and holiness. I’m expecting big things from you.”

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When Jesus cried out for us – Wednesday, 24th Week in ordinary time – Hebrews 5:7-9

Today’s reading has three power packed verses from the letter of St Paul to the Hebrews. St Paul’s letter to the Hebrews has the most intricate Christology in the New Testament. Christology deals with the person and works of Jesus. St Paul’s letter to the Hebrew’s presents a unique picture of Jesus.

In the letter to the Hebrews, St Paul presents Christ as the agent of creation, the exalted Son of God and High Priest installed at God’s right hand (especially see the opening of 1:1-4). Yet at the same time, the letter stresses how Christ shares every aspect of our humanity with the exception of sin (2:17-18; 4:15).

To fully understand this text we need to also read it with chapter 4:14 onwards, in which we see dual identities presented for Jesus; as Son of God and as High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). The text of today expands on Jesus as the Son of God and High Priest. In antiquity, high priests functioned as intermediaries. They offered sacrifices for the appeasement of the gods and the sins of the people. They offered intercessions and prayers, pleading the case of the people before God. They stood in the gap between God and the people.

Jesus is described as “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (4:14). Part of Jesus’ priestly service involved offering up prayers and supplications while identifying fully with humanity and who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin.” In simple words, in Jesus, we have a high priest who is empathetic with our struggles, he understands what we go through each day. He is truly Emmanuel, God with us.

Since Jesus is both our great high priest and our great intercessor he not only made it possible for us to approach God, but as the writer of Hebrew’s also suggests that we should approach God and do it with boldness.

Today’s text tells us that Jesus cried loudly and with tears on our behalf. Jesus cried out for us (verse7), not only so that we can cry out for ourselves but also so that we can cry out for others; cry out on behalf of our wounded and broken world; cry out against poverty and injustice. Intercession is our opportunity to stand in the gap for others, to bring their needs before God. When we approach the throne of grace, we can be confident to receive mercy and find grace to help us and those in need.

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What is difficult is not impossible – Thursday, 23rd Week in ordinary time – Colossians 3:12-17

Colossians 3:1-17 is a recognisable section of the letter and one that is often used to iron out differences in a community of believers. To understand this text fully we need to see it in its larger context of chapter three which has a pair of passages; one negatively focused (verses 5-11) and one positively oriented (verses 12-17).

The previous section of the letter (verses 5-11) with its concern with vices is now left behind. The text of today presents the positive dimensions of life in Christ. Christ provides the model and foundation for the life of the Colossians as he does for us. Notice, that these dimensions of Christian life are not some list for a few pious men and women but is a call to the entire community.

The list of five virtues in verse 12; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience are found elsewhere in the Pauline epistles but sadly not advocated by a world that believes in aggression in order to meet ones goals. It almost seems today that what St Paul advocates are for those who do not live in the real world. But St Paul is a realist and not one who lives in a fools paradise. In exhorting the community in Colossae to live these virtues, he also affirms that this community had differences. In asking them to ‘bear with each other’ he acknowledges that perhaps some people were unbearable and perhaps quite painful in the community. Life is never perfect. We never get perfect families, communities, co-workers or congregants. The reality is that we have to work towards living these virtues by bearing with each other. Sometimes, what cannot be cured must be endured!

It is important to note that these virtues are not just suggestions being made but are in some manner of speaking, rules which prohibit unchristian behaviour. Hence, selfishness and meanness remain prohibited. If we are found wanting, then the text of today admonishes us to change and make these changes in ourselves, in our character and in our behaviour. We need to read these instructions as if they are directed at us, and feel the conviction in our hearts, and proceed to make changes that are necessary and appropriate for people with the status we now hold as ‘God’s chosen ones’.

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St Augustine
Philippe de Champaigne
1645 – 1650
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41, and today greatly revered as the Father or Doctor of the Church. We are all familiar with the life-sketch of St Augustine of Hippo – a sinner turned saint. Through this painting let’s look at his life through art.

The painting in consideration is executed by the French Baroque painter – Philippe de Champaigne in a typical Counter-Reformation style. We see a bearded Augustine seated on an ornate chair in the darkened interior, of his book-lined study.

Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, the ancient name of the modern city of Annaba, Algeria. Therefore Augustine is depicted wearing episcopal garments. Notice his mitre placed on the table and his pastoral staff or the crozier leaning nearby. The vestments he wears are richly embroidered with depictions of evangelists and saints. A large clasp with an image of Christ holds the mantle around his frail figure – as if he is cloaked by Christ.

The manuscript he writes is placed on the desk. As he begins, St. Augustine pauses. With a quill pen in his hand, he looks over his shoulder for inspiration. As he seeks the Truth, the Truth seeks him and sets him free. Having embraced the Truth, Augustine crushes the heretical scrolls and texts with his right foot. Observe the names inscribed on the scroll and books. They read – Celestius, Pelagius, and Julian. This indicates the intense theological debates on original sin and grace that Augustine was engaged in with these and other thinkers of his time.

As St Augustine gazes at the divine light bearing the words Veritas meaning Truth, the light gently illuminates the Biblia Sacra or the Bible placed on a wooden lectern to the left of the room. The light symbolizes the Living presence of God.

Notice as the Sacred pages mystically curve and flutter. One can almost feel the Spirit moving in the room. The Spirit of God inflames Augustine’s heart and mind with the burning love of God and for God.

Above the manuscript, in his left hand, Augustine holds his flaming heart.
Interestingly, his heart is placed beyond his physical self. The whole image radiates the passionate spirituality of this man of God. Having lived within the recesses of sin and darkness, Augustine understands the beauty of light. He clings on to his newfound beauty, ever ancient, ever new.

As Augustine spills his heart onto the canvas of his ‘Confessions’, he writes the song we sing – ‘Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.’

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