Friday, September 18, 2009

They Helped To Support The Disciples From Their Own Resources

Today’s First Reading (1 Timothy 6:2c-12) omits the first and part of the second verse of this epistle, in which Paul speaks of a custom that was quite common in his times, was prevalent in some parts the United States until the mid-19th century, and is still practice in many other parts of the world: slavery. In Paul’s time many of the first Christians were slaves, and a few were slave owners. Paul urges Timothy to remind Christian slaves not only be obedient, but respectful to their masters, so that they not bring shame upon the Lord and the teachings of Christ. On the other hand, Christian slave owners are reminded that they must treat their servants as brothers, since all are children of the one true God. Timothy must teach these things to the members of the Church at Ephesus.

Paul then returns to the topic of false teachers, who not only disagree with what Paul teaches, but teach their own notions as the truth, even though it differs from what the Lord Jesus taught. These false teachers are proud and vain. They think they can know the truth by using their own minds. While that may be true in some respects with regard to human knowledge (mathematics, language, philosophy, etc.) it is not with regard to learning to know, to love and to serve the one true God, or to love one another as God has first loved us.

These false teachers not only lack understanding, but they are vain and arrogant. They have an unhealthy tendency to quibble over the meaning of words, which stirs up arguments that foster jealousy, and end up in slander and division among the people of God. Paul lists five specific problems that arise from such disputes: envy, spite, evil suspicions, and friction among people with corrupt minds, who do not accept the truth, and use religion as a means of personal gain. But they are wrong, for there is no ultimate gain in false religion.

“The love of money is the root of all evil” is a well known proverb, which opens verse 10. On the one hand, Paul is often misquoted: the problem is not money, but greed. On the other hand, the desire to accumulate wealth can become stronger than the desire to love and serve God. The inordinate desire for wealth is comparable to the roots of a plant whose fruits are evils of all sorts.

Unlike these false teachers, Timothy is a man of God, chosen by Him to be the leader of the church in Ephesus. As a man of God, he is enjoined to avoid all of the evils about which Paul writes. But, beyond that negative advice, Paul urges his young friend to pursue what is right and good. He lists six qualities that every Christian should cultivate: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.

To live for Christ in this world can often be a struggle, and Paul urges Timothy to “fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. “

+++ +++ +++ +++

In today’s gospel (Luke 8:1-3), Jesus travels about from one town and village to the next, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. With him are the Twelve, as well as some women who have been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary, called Magdalene, who had been free of seven demons; Johanna, the wife of Chuza, the chief steward of Herod’s household; Suzanna, and many others. These women were helping to support the disciples from their own resources.


Luke’s gospel has a special sensitivity to women. Today’s gospel passage is unique to Luke, and so are all of the following: the passages about Elizabeth (1:5-39), the prophetess Anna (2:36-38), the sinful woman (7:36-50), Martha and Mary (10:38-42), the crippled woman (13:10-17), the woman with the lost coin (15:8-10), the woman and the judge (18:1-8). This may not seem a big thing to us today, but in its own time and place the female following of Jesus was out of the ordinary. The power of the revolution unleashed by him is seen at one remove in St Paul, who (though he never knew Jesus in the flesh) could write, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Strict rabbis would not speak to a woman in public, very strict ones not even to their own wives. But what is remarkable is not only the presence of women in that list of followers, but their variety. Mary Magdalene, whom he had healed, became his most faithful follower. (From the 6th century she was identified with the sinful woman of Luke 7, but there are no grounds for this identification.) Joanna was the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza, who was a major political figure. If it had not been for their friendship with Jesus they would have had nothing in common. There were not just two or three women; the text says, “and many others.”

It has to be said: at crucial moments Jesus was better served by his women disciples than by his men. A little-known Cork poet, E. S. Barrett, wrote:

Not she with traitorous kiss her Saviour stung,
Not she denied Him with unholy tongue;
She, while apostles shrank, could danger brave,
Last at His cross, and earliest at His grave.

Donagh O’Shea, O.P.

No comments: