Friday of week 23 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Tim 1:1-2, 12-14
We begin reading today from the First Letter to Timothy. The two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus are known as the Pastoral Letters because of their main subject matter.

A brief biography of Timothy:

Timothy was a native of Lystra (in modern Turkey). His father was Greek, while his mother was a Jewish Christian (Acts 16:1). From childhood he had been taught the Old Testament (2 Tit 1:5; 3:15). Paul called him “my true son in the faith” (1:2), perhaps having led him to Christ during his first visit to Lystra.

At the time of his second visit Paul invited Timothy to join him on his missionary travels, and circumcised him so that his Greek ancestry would not be a liability in working with the Jews (Acts 16:3) – a good example of Paul’s pastoral flexibility, considering how strongly he spoke against those who wanted to re-introduce circumcision into the Christian church or to force Gentile Christians to undergo it.

Timothy shared in the evangelisation of Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 17:14-15; 18:5) and was with Paul during much of his long preaching ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Thessalonika and Philippi, both recipients of Pauline letters were in Macedonia, while Corinth was in Achaia in southern Greece. He travelled with Paul from Ephesus to Macedonia, to Corinth, back to Macedonia, and to Asia Minor (Acts 20:1-6). He seems even to have accompanied Paul all the way to Jerusalem.

He was certainly with Paul during the apostle’s first imprisonment (Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; Philem 1).

Following Paul’s release (after Acts 28), Timothy again travelled with him but eventually stayed at Ephesus to deal with the problems there, while Paul went on to Macedonia.

Paul’s closeness to and admiration of Timothy are seen in Paul’s naming him as the co-sender of his letters (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon) and in his speaking highly of him to the Philippians (Phil 2:19-22).

At the end of his life, Paul requested Timothy to join him at Rome (2 Tim 4:9,21). According to Heb 13:23, Timothy himself was imprisoned and subsequently released – whether at Rome or elsewhere, we do not know. Timothy was not an apostle, and he was probably not an ‘overseer’ (episkopos) since he was given instructions about overseers (3:1-7; 5:17-22). It may be best to regard him as an apostolic representative, delegated to carry out special work (see Tit 1:5). (New International Version Study Bible)

“Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus, appointed by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope.” The letter purports to come from Paul but there is discussion among scholars to what extent the Letter is Paul’s own writing, although it certainly reflects much of his thinking as we know it from his genuine letters.

He calls himself an ‘apostle’, seeing himself as being specially commissioned by “the command of God our Saviour”, a claim he makes more than once and a term which the Letter to the Hebrews applies to Jesus himself (Heb 3:1). In his other letters, Paul seldom uses the term ‘Saviour’ but in the Pastoral Letters he uses it when speaking both of the Father and of Christ. In speaking of Christ Jesus as “our hope” he is, as was mentioned elsewhere, speaking of an attitude of complete confidence in God’s promises yet to be fulfilled.

The Letter is addressed to Timothy, “true child of mine in the faith”. Timothy seems to have been found by Paul on a visit to Lystra (in present-day Turkey) during one of his missionary journeys and brought into the church by him. Paul, in other words, was his “God-father”. He also calls Timothy his son in the First Letter to the Corinthians (“my beloved and faithful son in the Lord”, 1 Cor 4:17) and in the Second Letter to Timothy (“Timothy, my child whom I love”, 2 Tim 1:2).

To Timothy Paul wishes “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.” Compared to other letters, it is a rather brief salutation. Yet we could hardly ask anything more precious from God our Father and the Lord Jesus than “grace”, the tangible experience of God’s love in our life; “mercy”; the compassion of God ready to forgive us at all times; and “peace”, the inner peace that only God can give and which no one can take from us.

Paul then gives a personal testimony of God’s love in his life. He expresses his deep gratitude to God “who has given me strength”. The strength to break away from his old rigid religious beliefs which were a source of such hatred and violence. By calling Paul into his service, Christ his Lord has made a vote of confidence in his trustworthiness.

God had good reason to have doubts given the fact that Paul had been a “blasphemer and a persecutor and contemptuous”. By going all out to destroy the Christian communities, he was a blasphemer because he was, in fact, attacking Christ himself. On the road to Damascus, he had been knocked to the ground and had heard a voice say: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, sir?” Paul asked in reply. The answer came: “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5). In attacking the Christians, he was attacking Jesus himself. “As often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to Me” (Matt 25:40). It is another affirmation of the real presence of Christ in his Body, the Christian community.

His blaspheming, of course, arose out of his persecuting activities and his Pharisaical arrogance in wanting to rid the world of what he regarded as renegade and heretical Jews.

However, the Lord showed compassion on him because, due to his lack of faith in Christ at the time, he basically was acting in ignorance. Most prejudice against other people arises from ignorance and hence is not seen by the prejudiced person as prejudice but a conviction about the ‘truth’, a ‘truth’ which, in fact, is very incomplete and often completely false.

Since then, “the grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus”.

It is never too late to be converted and change one’s ways. No matter what we may have done, God is ready to receive us back. We, however, have a very strong tendency to continue condemning people for their past or for their perceived background. We tend so easily to stereotype and scapegoat people.

But people can change, can change radically and they should be judged and evaluated on how they are now and not on how they were at a former time. Paul is a good example of this.

We need to remember that God always accepts us as we are here and now. One sincere act of love on our part wipes out everything. It is important that we try to act towards others in the same way.

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