Saturday of Week 9 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Timothy 4:1-8

Today we have our last reading from 2 Timothy organised 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 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. Paul says:

I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching.

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:

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound teaching, but, having their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

That is, people have ears that want to be “tickled” 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, who pick and choose from elements of other religious practices that they find more interesting. 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 failure to clearly communicate our message. The Christianity that many reject is frequently a serious distortion of the original message, because it is all they have ever heard; many others 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:

…be sober in everything, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry [service to the Gospel Way] fully.

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 of the reading, Paul himself can look back on his own record as an evangeliser with a certain amount of satisfaction:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.

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:

But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the service of your faith, I rejoice, and I rejoice together 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 (from about 36-66 AD).  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 we make the same boast as Paul?  Almost certainly not. But there is still time.  Let us start today.

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