Thursday of week 24 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on 1 Timothy 4:12-16
Having given Timothy instructions on the qualities needed for “bishops” and “deacons”, Paul goes on with some advice for Timothy himself.
First, Paul tells him not to allow anyone to look down on him or ignore him because of his relative youth. It is believed that Timothy was in his mid-30s or even younger. Perhaps, for this reason, his leadership was called in question by older, or even younger, members of the community. In those days, positions of community leadership would normally not be held by someone so young. We have seen that, in general, the leaders of the churches were called ‘elders’, because they were ‘senior citizens’. It was believed that wisdom and experience went with age. But there could be exceptions. One outstanding example was the Macedonian Alexander, who, even as a very young man, had a mesmeric influence on his troops.
Timothy is to counter this possible disadvantage not by exerting his authority or throwing his weight about but by the way he speaks and behaves. He will have the greatest influence by his display of love for all, the evident depth of his Christian faith and his “purity” which includes not only sexual propriety but integrity in general. He is to be a totally transparent person. It is a recipe for any Christian leader today.
While he waits for Paul’s arrival he is to devote himself to reading to the people, presumably from the Old Testament and from the Christian tradition that had been gathered by that time. Depending on the date when the Letter was actually written, the gospels may not yet have been put together. If a later date is accepted, then Matthew, Mark and Luke could have been in circulation.
Paul also reminds Timothy that he has been given by the community a solemn mandate and a charism to carry out his mission of church leadership. “Do not neglect the gift you received when, as a result of prophecy, the presbyters laid their hands on you.”
The ‘laying on of hands’ could be the rite for transmitting a grace or charism. It could be the gesture used when blessing, or healing, or imparting the Holy Spirit to the newly baptised. It could also be the rite for consecrating a person for a particular ministry, as in this passage and later in the same letter (5:22). With this laying of hands, Timothy is endowed with a special grace and authority to carry out his special ministry. (Notice he was given his ministry by the [lay] elders of his community who laid hands on him. Ultimate authority is in the community.)
The gift is also given “as a result of prophecy”. The ‘prophet’ was a person highly esteemed in the Christian communities of Paul’s time. In Paul’s list of charisms in the First Letter to the Corinthians, ‘prophets’ are listed immediately behind ‘apostles’ in importance, ahead of teachers, healers and administrators (1 Cor 12:28). The prophet did not just foretell the future. He or she was one who could communicate a special message of encouragement or warning from God to the community. It is likely that Timothy’s being chosen for his special ministry was the result of such a prophetic utterance. Since the day on which he received the imposition of hands, Timothy has had a permanent charism (‘grace-gift’) that consecrates him to his ministry.
If Timothy conscientiously follows the instructions of Paul, then everyone will see how well he does. And he will bring about the salvation both of those who listen to him and his own. Salvation is both an event and an ongoing process. We are saved at the time we say ‘Yes’ to Christ’s call but are still being saved in the sense of continually being made more conformed to Christ’s image (1 Cor 1:18). In Baptism we become incorporated into the Body of Christ and experience his redeeming love but it is at the same time only the beginning of a long journey of an ever-deepening experiencing and living out of that love. As they say, not to go forward is to go back.
The advice Paul gives to Timothy can be applied in large measure to all of us. We should not judge others or allow ourselves to be judged merely on the matter of age, whether we are young or old, or on any other prejudicial stereotype for that matter – being a woman, handicapped, member of a religious or ethnic minority, sexual orientation or whatever.
Secondly, the quality of our Christianity is ultimately judged by the way we externally live our Christian calling not just by what we say or the authority labels we attach to ourselves. As Jesus said about the Pharisees: “Do as they say but don’t do as they do.” What people can see should also clearly reflect what is inside. We cannot, in any case, live a false life for very long. As the Gospel reminds us, a rotten tree cannot bear good fruit.
Thirdly, we too need to recognise and reflect on the unique gifts we have been given by which we are called to serve the community.
Lastly, the quality of our external Christian witness depends a great deal on an interior life enriched by reading, reflection and especially regular prayer. We cannot enrich others with something we do not have. That, in a nutshell, is Paul’s advice to Timothy. And to each one of us.
 

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