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.
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.”