Reflecting on II Timothy for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, commenting on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

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What exactly does Paul mean in saying I have kept the faith? The word “faith” (pistis) has so many different meanings in the Bible and even in Paul that it is not easy to decide which meaning is intended. The parallelism with the preceding two phrases and the overall tone of the Pastorals might suggest that he has kept the deposit of the faith and handed it on faithfully (2 Tim 2:2), hence “the faith” in its objective sense. This is what he has urged Timothy to do (1 Tim 6:20); thus Paul would again be pointing to his own example.

However, Timothy surely knows that. Hence it may be preferable to understand the phrase in the sense “I have kept my pledge to the end,” “I have been faithful to my baptismal commitment,” or some equivalent. This would correspond to the widespread use of pistis in the Hellenistic world for fidelity to an oath or for trustworthiness. Josephus uses the word for marital fidelity. It was also the supreme virtue of the soldier, bound by sacred oath (sacramentum) to the emperor. So highly was it held in esteem in Rome that a temple was erected to the goddess Faith (Pistis): Numa “was the first to build temples to Faith . . . and he taught the Romans their most solemn oath by Faith, which they still continue to use.”

Of the three marks of triumph, Paul puts fidelity as the climax. In the Greek there is a beautiful rhetorical flourish in the similar sounding verbs teteleka (“I have finished”) and tetereka (“I have kept”). As Jesus having “loved his own in the world . . . loved them to the end” (John 13:1), so Paul has been faithful to the end.

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on II Timothy for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, commenting on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

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Back to Timothy, continuing the exhortation of 3:10: he is not to be shaken by any novel teaching but to hold firm to the faith and teaching he once learned. The †aorist tense of the verbs learned and believed refers to a past moment rather than a progressive growth, hence, the moment of his public profession of faith.

Though Timothy’s faith, like that of every Christian, was a grace given by God, there were human instruments of the learning. Although Paul certainly formed Timothy more deeply in the faith, filling out his instruction (1 Thess 3:10), it was not from the apostle that he first learned the faith. Already from infancy he has known the sacred scriptures (literally “the holy letters”).

Instead of using the normal term graphē for the Scripture, Paul here uses grammata, meaning literally “letters of the alphabet.” Ceslas Spicq notes that this is a beautiful way of speaking of how a child learns to read—first learning the letters. Of course, by extension, the word means the sacred Scriptures (John 5:47). These were the Jewish Scriptures, which Timothy’s mother may have taught him before she became a Christian. These Scriptures become sources of saving wisdom when one accepts them as fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on II Timothy for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, commenting on 2 Timothy 2:8-13

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If for the Christian, dying with Christ is past (the baptismal understanding of this death is obvious from the past tense: “we have died”) and the resurrection is future, what is the present life? To persevere or “endure.” It is the characteristic of love to endure all things (1 Cor 13:7).

The virtue of endurance (hypomone) appears in the noun form fifteen times in the Pauline letters and here in the verb form. The Church soon found out that those who receive the word do not always persevere. A momentary spiritual thrill may quickly fade, like the seed that falls by the wayside or onto rocks or into weeds. Only the persevering bear fruit for eternal life (Luke 8:15). It is this virtue, born of supernatural hope (1 Thess 1:3), that enables Christians, like Paul, to bear contradictions, trials, and weaknesses (1 Cor 4:9–13; 2 Cor 6:4), because they do so in union with Christ (1:5; Col 1:24) and in the assurance of the divine promise: we shall . . .reign with him.

But Paul is aware that defection and desertion are possible: but if we deny him. In fact, he has experienced both recently, as the two letters to Timothy attest. He is not thinking in particular, however, of the judgment that may fall on his betrayers (2 Tim 4:14); rather he is thinking of the unspeakable disaster that would befall any disciple who would deny the Lord: he will deny us.

It is the same warning expressed in Matt 10:33: “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Given the contrast here with perseverance, the meaning is probably not so much a malicious denial as a sin of cowardice, the kind of weakness Peter showed in denying his Lord. Though the early Church hesitated for some time about reconciling those who repented of their denial of Christ during persecution, at length she came to the conclusion that she could do no less than her Master had done for Peter: to forgive and reconcile. The denial by the Lord here, then, must fall only on those  persist in their obstinacy and never repent. It is a terrible thing to hear from the Lord, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt 25:12).

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on II Timothy for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, commenting on 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14

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If there was any doubt about the meaning of “what has been entrusted to me” in 1:12, it is removed by this passage, which clearly speaks of Paul’s teaching as the trust, now confided to Timothy. Timothy must follow the norm (hypotypōsis) set by the teaching of Paul, his very words. The Greek word is sometimes used for the architect’s plan for a building, the pattern for a cloak, the outline of a speech, the first sketch of a painting.

On the one hand, Paul’s words set the direction for Timothy’s teachings, but, on the other, he is not expected simply to mouth the phrases of his mentor. He is to fill them out, using his judgment as to how these words apply to situations unforeseen by Paul. This is a magnificent image for a dynamic tradition.

The same dynamic is at work in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. Jesus did not tell his disciples to parrot his words without concern for changing circumstances. His disciples were to convey his message as a seed meant to grow and bear fruit in whatever soil it was planted (Mark 4:14–20), bringing greater understanding and development. As Vatican Council II put it, traditio proficit, crescit perceptio: “The tradition . . . develops. . . . There is a growth in the understanding” (Dei Verbum 8).

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Timothy for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, commenting on 1 Timothy 6:11-16

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In affirming that God alone has immortality Paul is not thinking of the angels here or the glorified body of Christians (1 Cor 15:53–54) but of the pretenses of emperors to what God alone possesses.

Despite their humanness, emperors like Tiberius and Caligula were held to be immortal. Already in the Old Testament, light is one of the things most associated with divinity. God creates light and in that light creates everything else (Gen 1:3). Light dwells with him (Dan 2:22). He robes himself with light (Ps 104:2). He is light (1 John 1:5) and the Father of lights (James 1:17). This light makes him unapproachable to the human eye, like a mountain that cannot be scaled: “no man sees me and still lives” (Exod 33:20); “none can see him, however wise their hearts” (Job 37:24); “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18).

The New Testament holds out the assurance that the faithful in the future life will enjoy the light of God (Rev 22:5) because they will see him face to face; but in this life even they see darkly and imperfectly (1 Cor 13:12). This is quite a contrast to the mortal emperors frequently shown with rays of light shining from their heads. The finale acclaims the one to whom all honor and eternal power belong.

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Timothy for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on 1 Timothy 2:1-8:

There are only slight differences in the four types of prayers listed. Supplications are prayers occasioned by some concrete circumstances or pressing need. Prayers, frequently associated with supplications, is a more general term for prayer. It was in answer to his disciples’ request to “teach us to pray” that Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1–13). Petitions, sometimes translated “intercessions,” comes from a verb used to describe the favor a subject enjoys in being admitted to the presence of the king so as to present a request. For the Christian this means to beseech the “king of ages,” whom Paul just mentioned (1 Tim 1:17). The series climaxes (with no connecting “and” in the Greek) with thanksgivings.

A plural word for “Eucharist,” here the meaning is simply expressions of gratitude for past benefits bestowed on those for whom prayers are offered. In Phil 4:6 Paul tied three of these terms (prayers, supplications, and thanksgivings) together, suggesting in both places that thanksgiving should always accompany what Christians ask for in prayer.

This prayer is not just for one’s family or the local congregation or even for the Church. It is for everyone. Christians considered prayer for one another and for the Church a sacred duty (Acts 12:5; James 5:14–15). This was not difficult and sprang spontaneously from the Jewish soul schooled in the value of intercessory prayer. But Jesus had also told his disciples to pray for their enemies (Matt 5:44), and the Church could never forget that he himself had done so as he was dying on the cross (Luke 23:34), thus fulfilling the prophecy of the suffering Servant (Isa 53:12). The Christian’s prayer must extend as far as his charity (Matt 5:44). Luke, who records Jesus’ prayer for his enemies from the cross, also tells us that Stephen prayed for those who stoned him, and therefore for Paul himself, who approved of his execution (Acts 7:58–60).

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on I Timothy for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From First and Second Timothy, Titus by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on 1 Timothy 1:12–17:

Paul had been a blasphemer. How can he say that, if indeed he had thought he was acting in God’s behalf in rounding up and imprisoning Christians and even approving the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1)? In retrospect, and in the light of his conversion, he now sees how mistaken and blind he was. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the just but thought it would happen only at the end of the age, whereas Christians were proclaiming that it had already begun in Jesus. The Holy Spirit too, according to Pharisaic expectations, would be given at the end but not now; for now, the law was sufficient. But the disciples of Jesus were claiming that they—all of them—had already received the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, they were actually worshiping Jesus as mara (“Lord”), and to Paul’s monotheism this was blasphemous. They even claimed to be eating his flesh and drinking his blood! So from a human point of view it is understandable that he had persecuted the Church with “zeal” (Phil 3:6), “beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13). But his conversion had turned his understanding of blasphemy on its head— it was blasphemous of him to deny that Jesus is Lord, risen from the dead and giver of the Holy Spirit. Even to persecute the disciples of Jesus was now blasphemy, for that meant persecuting Jesus himself—as we read in Luke’s account of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5).

Arrogant has the note of excess, of extreme violence. The book of Acts describes Paul’s violence as imprisoning men and women and voting in favor of their death (Acts 8:1; 9:2; 22:4; 26:10). But he received mercy because he acted out of ignorance. The Old Testament already acknowledged the difference between sins done in ignorance and those done with evil intent (Lev 5:18; 22:14; Num 15:22–31), the former being capable of atonement. Yet the apostle is appalled at the objective evil he has done. It is not diminished but made understandable by his subjective blindness. It is characteristic of converts to see their past sins as having an enormity that they did not realize when they were committing them, even if they were excusable, or partly so, on the grounds of ignorance or malformed conscience.

© 2008 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.