Monday of Week 24 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:1-8

Paul continues his advice to his young colleague and companion, Timothy. Today he urges that prayers of petition, intercession and thanksgiving be made for people everywhere, but especially for those in authority and government.

According to the New American Bible:

“This marked insistence that the liturgical prayer of the community concern itself with the needs of all, whether Christian or not, and especially of those in authority, may imply that a disposition existed at Ephesus to refuse prayer for pagans. In actuality, such prayer aids the community to achieve peaceful relationships with non-Christians (v 2) and contributes to their salvation, since it derives its value from the presence within the community of Christ who is the one and only Saviour of all (vv 3-6). The vital apostolic mission to the Gentiles concerning Christ’s purpose of the universal salvation should be reflected in the prayer of the community (v 7) which should be unmarred by internal dissension (v 8; see Matt 5:23)”.

Paul tells Timothy that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving should be offered for every person. He includes kings and others in authority, so that the Christians may be able to:

…lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

Although it looks like a very ordinary prayer, the end may reflect some apprehensions about future developments.

Anyone who reads the Acts of the Apostles knows just how much trouble the Christians experienced at the hands of civil and religious authorities. But it is possible that the words were written when the madman Nero was emperor. He would unleash a ferocious attack on the Christians. And both Peter and Paul were to lose their lives as martyrs under this crazed ruler.

But rather than subject rulers to abuse or retaliatory action, Paul urges that prayers be said for them. Paul’s teaching is also in line with the advice that we saw from Jesus in a recent Gospel reading about loving those who hate and persecute us and to pray for them.

At the same time, Paul believed that generally legal authorities should be obeyed and respected. He told the Romans:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval, for it is God’s agent for your good. (Rom 13:1-4)

Sometimes, of course, doing “what is right” may mean not obeying an authority and call for civil disobedience.

Paul tells Timothy to pray with all ‘godliness’. ‘Godliness’, together with ‘godly’, is a key word in the Pastoral Letters and occurs eight times in this Letter, once in 2 Timothy and once in Titus, but nowhere else in the writings of Paul. It implies a good and holy life, with special emphasis on its Source, a deep reverence for God.

To pray in this way is right and acceptable to God our Saviour, who wants every person to be saved and reach the full knowledge of truth. The two elements here are really complementary, two sides of the same coin. To be ‘saved’ is to become the whole person that God wants one to be and central to that wholeness is the grasp and acceptance of what is fully true. The Way of Jesus is a way to wholeness and the Way of Jesus is Truth and Life. But wholeness and truth are never fully in our grasp. To get there is the goal of our whole lifespan.

That God wants all to experience this wholeness, sometimes referred to as ‘salvation’ or ‘redemption’, is surely the only satisfactory meaning that can be given to the death of Jesus, who died for every single person. It helps to counteract the ‘selective salvation’ of some who claim that God has decided whom he will save and who will be rejected. These people appeal to words of Paul in the Letter to the Romans:

So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses…Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? (Rom 9:18, 21)

This is not at all to say that God predestines us to salvation or damnation, but only that some by their behaviour call out the mercy of God and others bring about their rejection by their behaviour. God wants all to be saved but no one is forced to accept salvation. It is a gift and a grace offered to all, but not necessarily accepted by all.

Because, as Paul continues:

For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself as a ransom for all…

There is only one God is the basic belief of Judaism, confessed every day by devout Jews in the Shema prayer (Deut 6:4). The Greek word for ‘ransom’ (antilutron) was used most commonly to describe the price paid to redeem a slave. Similarly, Christ paid the ransom price of his own life to free us from the slavery of sin. This was the greatest love that a person can show, and:

…this was attested at the right time.

By his willingness to die for the whole human race, Christ showed the human race that God wanted everybody to be saved. He was the Father’s ‘witness’ all through his life to the love of God for all of us, but never so supremely as at the moment of his dying on the cross. The Greek word for ‘witness’ is the same as for ‘martyr’(martus). Jesus is the Supreme Witness, the Supreme Martyr.

Now Paul has been appointed “herald and apostle” of this great message from God made in and through Jesus and has become a teacher to the Gentiles “in faith and in truth”. A herald is one given the authority to make an important public proclamation. In his book Models of the Church, then Father (ultimately Cardinal) Avery Dulles SJ lists one of the models as “Church as Herald”. The mission of Paul has been passed on to all of us baptised. It is something we have to do both collectively and individually. And what Paul has been called on to testify is that, through his death, Christ has bridged the gap between God and humanity and made salvation available to every person.

Finally, Paul tells them that he desires:

…that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

He asks that they lift up their hands reverently in prayer, with no anger or feuding. A feuding community does not provide a conducive environment for prayer.

The next verses of the letter will not be read in our liturgy. They deals with the very submissive role that Paul says women are supposed to accept in the prayer assembly. Thankfully, we have made some progress in this area, but we are not the whole way there yet for full recognition and integration.

So, the reading is telling us that the true Christian spirit is not to rid the world of those who are the enemies of Christianity. When we pray, it is not to ask God to punish or destroy our enemies (as was sometimes done in the Old Testament), but rather to pray that they may change and see things differently, see things in God’s way and become faithful to truth, love and justice.

We, as Christians are bold enough to think that in the message of Jesus, we are on the path of truth, and the lived experience of the Christian life, especially that of the saints, bears it out. This was what motivated Paul to be:

…a herald and an apostle.

We, too, are called to the same task.

Let us remember too, not just during Mass, but very regularly to pray for others, especially those whom we see as a source of trouble in our lives, people we do not like and who do not like us, people who seem to “have it in for us” – difficult superiors or relatives or work colleagues.

Praying in all sincerity that God will shower them with his love, his grace and blessings can really bring about a change in them. This has been attested to again and again.

Even more importantly, it changes us. It is difficult to hate a person you are continually praying for. It helps to dissipate anger and brings a special kind of peace. It changes the way we relate to them. And it is a relatively easy thing to do. Try it!

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