Saturday of week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Phil 4:10-19

We conclude our readings from the letter to the Christians at Philippi with a passage where Paul thanks them for the generous help they have given him in his time of need.

As usual, Paul cannot make a simple statement without filling it out with deep theological and spiritual insights. Once again he speaks with a feeling of joy. This time it is because “at last” he has received help from them.

The delay was not due to any negligence on their part but because of a lack of opportunity in getting the help to him. Does this mean that perhaps Paul may indeed at this time have been a prisoner in faraway Rome? But there could also have been difficulties reaching him if he was imprisoned in Ephesus. Apart from Paul’s being in prison, travel to another region or province was a major undertaking in those days. Perhaps, too, a suitable emissary was not available. In any case, what Paul values most of all is the care and concern that is expressed by their gift.

Once again Paul indicates his total absence of worry about having or not having things. “I have been through my initiation,” he says. Perhaps this is a reference to the ‘mystery’ religions into whose secrets and rituals one had to be initiated. Paul has been initiated into the Way of the Gospel and its message of total dependence and total trust in God.

As a labourer for the Gospel, Paul has experienced times of plenty and times of want. And he has now reached the stage that he accepts whatever comes with equanimity: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. This is the wonderful freedom that life in Jesus gives. This is that ‘indifference’ that discerns and submits to God’s loving presence in every experience.

As he says here in a much-quoted phrase: “I can do everything in the One who gives me strength.” This is the source of happiness and contentment: a close union with Jesus the Lord. Union with the living, exalted Christ is the secret of being content and the source of Paul’s abiding strength.

At the same time, he does appreciate the gesture of the Philippians in coming to relieve his hardship and, in a sense, sharing in them. The Philippian church has a special place in Paul’s heart. From the very earliest days when Paul first preached the Gospel among them on his second missionary journey, they helped him out, not once but many times. The gifts sent to Paul through Epaphroditus are only the latest in a long and consistent pattern of generosity. Even when he was in Thessalonica, another Macedonian town, it was the Philippians who helped him out.

In fairness it should be said that Paul generally refused payments from churches he visited, although he made it clear that he would have been entitled to something on the basis of the services he rendered. He was always proud of supporting himself by his own skills as a tentmaker.

However, it is not the monetary value of their gift that Paul most values. Rather it is the investment they are making for themselves in the life that is to come. The “investment value” of the Philippian’s gift is not primarily what Paul received from them, but the “spiritual dividend” they themselves will receive.

And so, right now, Paul has all that he needs and more. Those needs are clearly minimal. He sees the gift of the Philippians, brought to him by their emissary Epaphroditus, like a sacrifice of thanksgiving offered to God, full of sweetness and fragrance. In return, Paul is confident that his God will repay the Philippians’ generosity as generously as only he can by supplying all their real needs through the “glorious riches” that come through Christ Jesus.

Let us today give thanks for all that we have received directly and indirectly from the hands of our loving God. Let us learn to be satisfied in having just our needs taken care of. “The truly rich are those whose needs are the least.” Let us also consider whether there are any people who could be helped by us in any way, whether it is by money or in some other way.

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