Preaching Amid Difficulties
Homily for Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
For the next four weeks, the first reading for our daily celebration of the Eucharist will come from various letters of St. Paul. Whenever I read these letters, I have to remind myself that all of St. Paul’s many contributions to the Christian Scriptures were written before the Gospels. It is important to keep this in mind because they more accurately reflect the thinking of the very early Christian church. They also record some of the struggles that the apostles endured as they proclaimed the Good News which they had been commissioned to do. St. Paul, in particular, ran into difficulty because he went beyond the Jewish people and brought the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles.
St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians reflects some of that difficulty. Apparently, his opponents had been trying to sway some of his converts with their own preaching, contradicting the message that St. Paul had preached. Usually, these opponents tried to convince St. Paul’s converts that they first had to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians. This meant that they had to follow the Jewish dietary laws and that all their male children had to be circumcised. However, in this particular instance, it seems that they have been trying to upset the Gentile Christians by telling them that the Day of the Lord had already come. This was a subtle way of telling them that they had been left behind. Consequently, St. Paul makes an effort to remind the Thessalonians that not only had he warned them about this, but his companions, Sylvanus and Timothy, had also told them to be wary.
St. Paul’s message is an example of authentic witness to the Gospel. It is an example of one who knows he is serving the people he leads. He models for them what he has personally received from Christ so that others may come to know Christ through him. God had taken St. Paul, considered “a Pharisee’s Pharisee” by his contemporaries, and in his unfathomable ways and mercy, made him a model to imitate Christ. Through divine grace, God made Paul “the Apostle to the Gentiles” and one of the most significant reasons for the growth of the early church.
St. Paul’s message, indeed God’s message, is one of hope. God’s mercy and grace are at work in us. When we cooperate with it, when we allow him to deliver us from any hypocrisy we might inhabit, there we find our own ability to imitate Christ.