Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Have Finished The Race; I Have Kept The Faith. The Lord, The Just Judge Will Reward Me, And All Who Have Longed For His Appearance.

Saturday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Tm 4:1-8
I charge you in the presence
of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingly power:
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, encourage
through all patience and teaching.
For the time will come
when people will not tolerate sound doctrine
but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity,
will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth
and will be diverted to myths.
But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances;
put up with hardship;
perform the work of an evangelist;
fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well;
I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.
Today we have our last reading from 2 Timothy. It is 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 coming 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, whether “convenient or inconvenient - correcting, reproving, appealing”, but “never losing patience”.

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. They “will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears”. Ears that want to be “scratched” 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, dabbling in elements of the so-called “New Age”, which include distorted forms of Buddhism and Hinduism and Yoga and… 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 remissness in communicating our message. The Christianity that many reject is frequently a serious distortion of the original message, because it is all they have ever heard and many more 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 “put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, carry out your ministry” of service to the Gospel Way. 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, Paul himself can look back on his own record as an evangeliser with a certain amount of satisfaction. “For my part I am already being poured out like a libation.” 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: “Even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Philippians 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 (c.AD 36-66). 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 I make the same boast as Paul? Almost certainly not. But there is still time. Let me start today.
+++    +++    +++   +++
Psalm 71
I will sing of your salvation.
My mouth shall be filled with your praise,
with your glory day by day.
Cast me not off in my old age;
as my strength fails, forsake me not.
I will sing of your salvation.
But I will always hope
and praise you ever more and more.
My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
I will sing of your salvation.
I will treat of the mighty works of the Lord;
O GOD, I will tell of your singular justice.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
I will sing of your salvation.
So will I give you thanks with music on the lyre,
for your faithfulness, O my God!
I will sing your praises with the harp,
O Holy One of Israel!
I will sing of your salvation.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 12: 38-44
In the course of his teaching Jesus said,
“Beware of the scribes,
who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows
and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd
put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came
and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood.”
We come today to the end of our readings from Mark’s gospel. We stop just on the threshold of prophecies about the end of Jerusalem and the final coming of Jesus and the story of his passion and resurrection.

There are two related passages today serving as entry points for this last phase of Jesus’ life and mission among us.
First, Jesus hits out at some of the scribes, the expert interpreters of the law. As such, they feel that they are expected to be perfect models of that law down to its smallest details. Jesus says they go around in long, flowing robes (the working poor could not afford to dress like that); they expect to be “greeted obsequiously” in the street and to be given the best places in the synagogue and at banquets. (Such behaviour, we have to confess, is not unknown among Christian clergy and other religious leaders.)

At the same time, Jesus says, these leaders were rapacious hypocrites. They did not hesitate to “swallow the property of widows” while, at the same time, making a show of lengthy prayers. They were the opposite of everything that Jesus was proposing as the way to love and serve God. They emphasised the external appearance rather than the inner spirit; they were concerned about being served rather than serving others; they thought only of what they could get through their privileged position rather than what they could share, especially with those in need.

Jesus warns that, precisely because of their greater knowledge of the law, their responsibilities in not keeping its real spirit will be all the greater. From whom more is given more is expected.

The mention of widows leads on to the second part of the reading. Jesus was sitting facing the treasury of the Temple and watching the people putting in their offerings. A poor widow - and widows were, almost by definition, poor and, because they could no longer produce children, regarded practically as non-persons, rejected by their husband’s family. They were often reduced to poverty. Yet, it is one of these who approaches the treasury box and drops in two coins of negligible value.

Jesus draws the attention of his disciples who were with him and points out that the poor woman had put in more than all the others combined. They were contributing what they could easily spare while she put in her whole livelihood. It was an act of total trust in God’s providence and care for her.

It has been pointed out that she put in two coins. In other words, given her situation, she would have been more than justified in putting in just one. Compare her to the rich man who could not part with his wealth to follow Jesus.

It has also been pointed out that this anonymous woman is, in a way, a symbol of Jesus himself. He also will “empty himself”, give away everything, including his life, out of love for his Father and for us. It seems no accident that the story is placed just here as Jesus enters on his final days.

Today’s two incidents both provide matter for us to reflect on. Do we wear our Christianity just on our sleeve? Do we tend to assert our “rights” over others and expect due deference from them e.g. in our working place? How much of what we have are we willing to share with others? “Teach us, Lord, to be generous.”

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'I charge you in the presence
of God and of Christ Jesus'

It's wonderful how a prisoner, isolated from his friends, can feel so close to God as to be in His presence - and so close to his friends. The presence of God makes them all present to each other, despite the distances.


I suppose the scribes would be called on to draw up the legal documents that ensured a widow left her deceased husband's house without a bean!

The legal profession is separate from religious practice in the west nowadays, but it was not always so. That is why the words 'clerk' and 'cleric' are so similar - originally all clerks were clerics, as they are in Shariah law today.