Commentary on 2 Tim 4:1-8
Today we have our last reading from 2 Timothy. It is in two parts. The first part consists of an exhortation by Paul to Timothy to be unwavering in his work of evangelising and preaching.
Paul gives this urging with great solemnity “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead”. He is also keenly aware of the twin facts of Christ’s return and the coming establishment of God’s kingdom in its fullest expression. After all, the eternal lives of his listeners will be depending on the commitment Timothy gives to his work.
So Timothy is charged to preach the Word through thick and thin, whether “convenient or inconvenient – correcting, reproving, appealing”, but “never losing patience”.
This is necessary because there will come a time when people will tire of solid teaching and will go chasing after all kinds of novelties. They “will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears”. Ears that want to be “scratched” by words which are in keeping with their evil desires. Instead of standing by their faith in Christ, they chase after fables and fairy tales.
What was true in Paul’s time is just as true today. In spite of the spiritual wealth and wisdom that we have in our Christian tradition, we have so many, including Catholics, dabbling in elements of the so-called “New Age”, which include distorted forms of Buddhism and Hinduism and Yoga and… People move from one titillating excitement to another. There is no end.
However, some of this, we Christians must admit, is because of our own weaknesses and remissness in communicating our message. The Christianity that many reject is frequently a serious distortion of the original message, because it is all they have ever heard and many more have not even heard the message in any form. It can lose all meaning in face of the bombardment of new ideas which pour out from all kinds of sources.
In all such situations, Timothy is urged to ‘keep his cool’. There is a need to “put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, carry out your ministry” of service to the Gospel Way. That is what we all have to do. But to do so effectively, we must be, as we saw in yesterday’s reading, deeply inserted into the Word of God in the Scriptures.
In the second part, Paul himself can look back on his own record as an evangeliser with a certain amount of satisfaction. “For my part I am already being poured out like a libation.” It was the custom both among Jews and other religious believers to pour libations of wine, water or oil over the victims to be sacrificed. Paul views his approaching death as the pouring out of his life as an offering to Christ. Earlier, he had written to the Christians at Philippi: “Even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phil 2:17). He knows his departure, that is, his leaving this life, is not far away. Now in prison and at the end of his life, Paul sees himself being poured out as a total offering to God. He has given his all and is holding nothing back.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul looks back over 30 years of labour as an apostle (c.AD 36-66). Like an athlete who had engaged successfully in a contest (“fought the good fight”), he had “finished the race” and had “kept the faith”, i.e., had carefully adhered to the teaching of the Gospel.
Like a runner in a race, he now deserves the garland of victory with which he is confident that the Lord will crown him when the Lord, whom he so passionately loves, comes again in judgement. He could be referring to the winner of a race or he could be referring to (1) a crown given as a reward for a righteous life, (2) a crown consisting of righteousness or (3) a crown given righteously (justly) by the righteous Judge.
Can I make the same boast as Paul? Almost certainly not. But there is still time. Let me start today.