Wednesday of Week 24 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:14-16

The first part of today’s reading is an immediate follow-up on yesterday’s about the qualities required of “bishops” (episkopoi) and “deacons” (diakonoi).

Paul is writing to Timothy from Rome in the hope of being able to pay him a personal visit in the near future. But, in case his visit is “delayed” (because he may actually be in prison), he is sending the present letter in order to instruct him on his responsibility of setting high standards of conduct in the Church of Ephesus and its nearby towns:

I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

The care he must exercise over this community is required by the profound nature of Christianity as:

…the mystery of godliness is great.

A full understanding of our Christian faith and of the Church requires a great deal of prayer and reflection. And, unless there is a deep understanding of what it is about, one cannot expect Christians to behave in a desirable manner.

Then, using what seems to be part of a liturgical hymn from the Ephesian church, Paul expresses that “mystery” at the heart of Christian belief. It consists of six brief statements grouped in pairs:

He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.

It centres on Christ, pre-existent (from all eternity the Word was with God) but, through the Incarnation, appearing in human flesh. He was justified in the Spirit, which came down on him during his baptism in the Jordan:

And a voice from the heavens said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17)

Thus the mission of Jesus is fully endorsed, as will happen again at the Transfiguration.

The holiness and divinity of Christ were also proved by his rising in glory. The Holy Spirit enables Jesus to drive out demons (see Matt 12:28) and perform wonderful signs. Most importantly, the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and thereby vindicated him, proving that he was indeed the Son of God. The mystery of his Person was revealed to the angels (at his resurrection and ascension), and proclaimed to the Gentiles (by people like the apostles and Paul and Timothy).

The response of the Gentiles results in Jesus being believed in throughout the world. As Paul wrote, ‘world’ refers to the Mediterranean region, the world in which he lived but, of course, it has since become a reality far beyond his wildest imagining. Finally, through his resurrection-ascension Christ has been taken up in glory, sitting at the right hand of the Father.

It is important for us to realise how deep is the mystery of our Christian faith centred on the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is inevitable that people, including bishops and priests, have different understandings of that faith, even after much study. Such differences should lead to a readiness to listen to others rather than lock ourselves into our own understanding. And let us remember what Jesus said was the only true sign of our belonging to him:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Because, wherever there is love, God is also there. That, of course, does not excuse us (depending on our abilities) from trying to have the best understanding possible of the meaning of our faith.

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