Tuesday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Titus 2:1-8, 11-14

Today the Letter continues by giving some moral instructions to the community at large. It also makes very clear and challenging demands on Titus himself. With the many false teachers in mind, Titus is told that he in particular is to spell out the kind of behaviour that follows from the true teaching of the Gospel and which is expected of all. “It is for you” – the ‘you’ is emphatic and contrasts the teaching of Titus with that of the false and Gnostic teachers previously denounced.

Instructions are now given on the kind of behaviour that is expected of all, regardless of age, gender or status in the community. Older men in the community, by virtue of their seniority and experience of life, were expected to be examples of reserve, dignity and balanced moderation in their consistent living out of the Gospel. This was to be in contrast to many Cretans, earlier described as “liars, vicious beasts and lazy gluttons”.

The same standards were expected of older women in the Christian community, where it is clear that they had a better status than their non-Christian counterparts. They are not to be spreading malicious gossip or given to excessive drinking – suggesting that such behaviour was perhaps also characteristic of Cretan women.

On the contrary, they are to give an example to younger women on how to love their husbands and their children, how to be sensible and sexually modest, how to look after the home, be kind and gentle and – in the mode of the times – “do as their husbands tell them.” Although, this last injunction should be balanced with what the Letter to the Ephesians (5:25) says are the duties of the husband towards his wife – though different Greek words for “love” are used in the two passages: philia (in Titus) and agape (in Ephesians). Actually, philia is probably the more appropriate word for a united married couple.

And – it is important to remember this – all this is part of living the Gospel message in a very practical way. This is how the married woman gives witness to the message of the Gospel. By failing to live in this way, the effectiveness of the Gospel can be diminished.

Titus himself then is urged especially to give an example to younger men. The call to be “moderate” or “sensible” was very much in the Greek tradition, but it is something frequently mentioned in these letters. It is also clear that young men then were not very different to those in every other age, including our own. “Moderation” is not usually considered one of their strong characteristics.

Titus is called on to be an example of integrity and consistency in his teaching and his lifestyle so that there can never be any serious criticism levelled at him. Perhaps Titus was still a young man, and not yet well respected by the Cretan churches. The demands on a leader are all-inclusive, involving not only his word but also his lifestyle. So the Letter of James tells us: “Not many of you should become teachers for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

Whether we like it or not, the message is often identified with the messenger. So where Titus is seen to be consistently faithful, when his behaviour matches his word, his opponents will have nothing to throw against him.

Of course, in practice, we do have to distinguish between the message and the messenger. The Church or any member of it cannot and should not be identified with Christianity itself, which is a vision of life, an ideal to be aimed at. The message is sublime, but it is carried in very brittle and very porous vessels, and it is important to remember that.

At this point, two verses which deal with slaves are omitted, presumably on the assumption that they are no longer relevant. We might reflect, however, on how many people in our societies are treated virtually as slaves e.g. exploited migrant workers, young children abducted and trafficked for the sex industry, just to mention two examples.

The passage concludes with some general remarks about the Christian faith. Through Christ, God’s gratuitous love for peoples everywhere (and not just for an elite group) has been made known to us. Through these words, we know that this message must influence the way we live. It tells us what we need to do, and the kind of people we need to become so that we can one day be forever united with our God. Everything that does not point us in that direction should be removed from our lives. Orthodoxy must be accompanied by orthopraxis, right thinking by right doing.

That calls for certain standards of behaviour and acting as we prepare for the day when we come face to face with “our great God and (our) Saviour Jesus Christ”, who has made it all possible for us. This phrase – without the “our” – is often referred to by the Fathers of the Church to affirm the divinity of Jesus Christ. Omitting the “our” is thought to be the more accurate reading of the original text.

It was the sacrifice of his own life on the cross which brought about our becoming a truly free people, a people with “no ambition except to do good”. And that is a definition of freedom: the ability in every situation to do what is good.

Preaching alone will not bring about change in our communities. It must be followed up by individuals, families and groups consciously trying to implement the message that comes to us in the Gospel. And we can only do that really as a mutually supportive community. It is not something that can be done left entirely to our own devices. The “Church” is not some amorphous entity which we can praise or blame at will – it consists of all of us – individuals, families and groups. If the Church is at fault, it means that the fault lies in ourselves, and that is where it is to be tackled.

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