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 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.

Reflection on Revelation on the Third Sunday of Easter

The Church takes its second reading on the Sundays of Easter from the book of Revelation in order to meditate on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us.  This Third Sunday the reading is from John’s vision of the slain Lamb standing before God’s throne in heaven receiving worship from all.  Here is a comment on Rev 5:11-14 from Peter S. Williamson Revelation (forthcoming, Fall 2014).

Surrounding the throne and the living creatures and elders John sees countless angels who respond to the “new hymn” of the living creatures and elders with a great shout of acclamation praising the Lamb.  Then John hears every living thing in heaven, on earth, and under the earth—i.e., the whole universe—joining in and acclaiming both God and the Lamb. In response to their praise the four living creatures answer “Amen,” and the elders prostrate themselves. Thus, a wave of praise starts from the angels closest to the throne and rushes outward in all directions. When it reaches the extreme limits of creation, it rolls back again to the center where it is confirmed by those stationed closest to God and the Lamb.

It is precisely because the Lamb has been slain that all the angels acclaim him as Worthy of divine honors.  This acclamation attributes adoration equally “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. This is an extraordinary statement to arise from a Jewish monotheist like John, but it is the characteristic claim made about Jesus by the early Church (John 1:1-18; 1 Cor 8:4; Phil 2:9-11; Heb 1:1-3).  This word of praise is all-encompassing and uniquely fitting for God because it is fourfold, symbolizing universality—“blessing and honor, glory and might”—and eternal, “forever and ever.”

The Christian tradition has always understood, as Pope John Paul II said, that “the liturgy we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in the heavenly liturgy.” In fact, all genuine Christian prayer is a participation in the worship of heaven.  According to St. Paul, there is in a real way in which we already have been “raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1-4; see Catechism 1003).  Baptized believers are in communion with heaven and God’s throne because we have been united to Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.  This is true of our personal prayer, but especially in our prayer with others (Matt 18:20), and above all, when we participate in the Eucharist and re-present to God the sacrifice of his Son.  Of course, the participation in the life of heaven we now enjoy is incomplete and awaits a future fulfillment: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).   As the Catechism says, “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims…” (1090).

© 2013 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.