“Cease and desist”- Paul’s message to the Thessalonians – Tuesday, 21st Week in ordinary time – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a,14-17

“Cease and desist”- Paul’s message to the Thessalonians – Tuesday, 21st Week in ordinary time – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a,14-17

Sensational news always gets our ears puckered up. News agencies thrive on breaking news and our fingers suffer from a new compulsive disorder to share the ‘misfortunes’ of others, sensational or tragic, on the world of WhatsApp. So much of this news thrives because there are no dearth of alarmists in the world or for that matter in the church. The text of today is an appeal to those in Paul’s community in Thessalonica, not to be ‘shaken’ by the doomsayers who have been allegedly announcing with precision the clock and calendar coming of the Lord’s Parousia. All this is a distraction from the truth and reality of what God has done, is doing, and will yet do.

Paul is writing to community he is familiar with for he begs his ‘brothers and sisters’ not to pay attention to the alarmist in the community. Paul was addressing the community in Thessalonica which was a port city in Macedonia (modern day Greece). It was founded in 315 BC by Cassander who was a general in Alexander the greats’ army. Cassander had married Alexanders half-sister and named the city after her. The city fell to the Romans and in 146 BC became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.

At the time of Paul, this was an important city. It thrived in commercial trade and was strategically and politically important. Located on the via Egnatia which linked Rome to the Balkans, Thessalonica became a cosmopolitan city and being cosmopolitan it had a substantial Jewish community, large enough to support a synagogue.

Paul evangelised this community in about the year 50 AD while on his second missionary journey. St Luke tells us that having fled the persecution in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40) St Paul and his companions found lodging in the house of Jason in Thessalonica and it here that he preached for three weeks. Paul’s success had his Jewish detractors draw their knives, and a riot ensued. Paul and Silvanus were expelled from the city and arrived in Beroea and from there he had to flee to Athens to a rather unsuccessful sojourn in that city. It was from here that he went to Corinth.

Paul desired to visit Thessalonica but because of the hostility against him he sent Timothy (1Thessalonians 2:17-3:3). Acts 18:5 tells us that Timothy joined Paul in Corinth where he brought the good news of the work being done in Corinth. However, there was also a matter of concern and misunderstanding in the matter of faith; in particular about the fate of those who had died. To address this situation Paul wrote immediately the letter we now have in 1Thessalonians. However, while the second letter to the Thessalonians cannot be precisely dated, it took on issues that was vexing the community; the second coming of the Lord or the Parousia as we call it.

In 2 Thessalonians 2, rumours had spread through this church concerning fears of having missed Christ’s coming and these rumours were causing significant distress. Rather than becoming distracted by details of the end times, St Paul exhorts the community “not to become easily unsettled or alarmed,” but “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” he gave them in person.

It is quite clear that the community was “shaken” or “unsettled” by the teachings of a few. These teaching were not just some superficial disturbance in the faith of the people but had succeeded in creating an earthquake in their minds; enough to be “shaken” and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. “Shaken out of their minds” translates a verb often used of a ship adrift from its moorings and suggests a lack of stability.

Perhaps today, few would be disturbed by a teaching on the Parousia especially since 2022 years have passed us by but for this young congregation, this teaching had shaken them and left each person trying to figure out how they ought to act: should they work or should they wait?

Paul took on this matter head on. He told the Thessalonians that there is and there will be greater and greater opposition and persecution, but Christians do not need to live in fear! Nor do they need to be deceived by false teachers. Their focus (as should ours) should be on the Gospel which has been preached to them and which has as its final purpose a sharing in the glory of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Paul asked God to do two things in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians. First, he wanted God to comfort their hearts. Second, he asked God to establish them in every good word and work. This prayer for comfort and continued testimony and work for Jesus is fitting in light of the special needs of believers under pressure.

At every age in the Church’s history, and especially at certain key periods such as the turn of the century, there are people who are convinced that the end of the world is at hand and that Christ is coming in judgement at any moment. So far, they have been wrong. We would be better off listening to the advice of today’s letter and focus our energies on living out the Gospel each day in truth and love. This is the best possible preparation we can make.

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