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Thursday, February 12, 2015

2 Timothy

This week we will focus on 2 Timothy, which will be the NT reading each day from our Morning Prayer Lectionary. I will not look at the scholarly issues of the Pastorals (1&2 Timothy and Titus), rather we will address the content of the chapters.

We notice after the greeting that Paul alludes to God, "whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did." Paul is a Jew (and a Pharisee) whose faith is in continuity with his ancestors. One does not sense that he has cut himself off from his family. (Acts mentions his nephew but we have little other biographical information) Paul's writings are focused on particular situations and are often in response to conflicts. Small reminders like this verse help us see him more broadly. Paul goes on to remind Timothy of the faith of his own mother and grandmother (making Timothy a third generation Christian?--or affirming their faithfulness as Jews?)

Timothy is exhorted to "rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands." Two things jump out, one is the need to kindle (blow on the flame) the gift. It is easy to think of charisms as magic, Paul seems to indicate that the human recipient has work to do in the process. Secondly, the use of Paul to convey the gift. As a Catholic, I am used to bishops laying hands on people to confirm or ordain them. This practice, which again emphasizes human agency (like kindling does!) is a reminder that God takes humans seriously. 

Verses 8-18 begin and end with a repetition of the themes of 'not being ashamed' of Jesus (or the cost of discipleship). Paul is in prison, and living in a honor-shame culture that was very shameful. [our own culture has the idea of shame, but it is far less prevalent and not on our minds as it was for ancient Near Easterners] The Gospel message centers on Jesus and the cross. We have little sense of how stunningly shameful that idea would be in that culture. Suffering is also repeated at beginning and end. This was a theme in Jesus preparation of the apostles. Those who follow Jesus carry a cross. Those attached to Him should expect resistance. Having grown up middle class in a Christian society my experiences have not been so harsh, but every day we are reminded that in many places, loving Jesus means death.

The beliefs of the church, the 'content of faith' is also important in this letter. The question of orthodoxy (less central than trust in God for salvation or being faithful-right action) emerges in the Pastorals. Church order and leadership begin to be more of a focus. For some this is a perversion of the heart of the Gospel (church and doctrine) and muddies the waters. Yet, if the church is to exist from age to age, then such developments are unavoidable. A universal church requires governance. The current trend to free standing, non-denominational and independent local churches is certainly contrary to how the church operated in ancient times. Trusting God does not mean that we negate the structures.

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