Summary: Year C. Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 7th, 2001 Heavenly Father, thank you, for the elaborate ceremonies marking life passages that make great reminders not only of the “way it was” but also the “way it should be.” Amen. Title: “The danger
Year C. Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 7th, 2001
Heavenly Father, thank you, for the elaborate ceremonies marking life passages that make great reminders not only of the “way it was” but also the “way it should be.” Amen.
Title: “The danger of routine”
Writing in Paul’s name or, more correctly, Paul’s mindset and with Paul’s authority, either commissioned and “ordained” directly by Paul or officially recognized as Paul’s mouthpiece, the author admonishes Timothy, himself “ordained” by Paul, to return in spirit to his original rite of ordination and rekindle the flame of faith, the gift of God’s Spirit in verses six and seven. He should be neither timid about nor ashamed of “the testimony of the Lord,” the gospel and all it entails, nor of Paul’s imprisonment, a worldly sign of failure. Rather, he should willingly join in the suffering the gospel brings with it, a suffering Paul himself knew all too well.
In verse six, I remind you to rekindle, this metaphor from the rekindling of a dying flame does not necessarily mean that the flame of enthusiasm had gone out or was in danger of doing so. This would hardly be true in Timothy’s case. It means that everyone must take some steps, at times but preferably daily, to “keep the flame of faith alive in your heart,” to keep the memory “green,” to recall the original event or experience for the purpose of re-experiencing it and it beneficial effects, to make full use of its potential.
“The gift of God,” the word for “gift” in the Greek is charisma, “charism.” Paul has given this word a special sense. Certainly, faith itself is a gift of God, but Paul uses this term more specifically for an intense manifestation of this first and fundamental grace. God’s grace is manifested in different ways in different people, each according to God’s purpose and for the good of the Church. The gift here is one of ministry to the Church, a special assignment by God, not shared by everyone. Charisms, therefore, are not to be considered as natural endowments, but special bestowals of power or powers, necessary to accomplish a divinely assigned task.
Through the laying on of my hands, Paul “ordained” Timothy. “Laying on of hands” became a technical way of referring to the act or rite whereby a person was recognized to have been commissioned by the Lord for special service, a service to others by virtue of a power others do not have. Of course, it is a specification of one’s baptismal commission, activated at the time of “ordination.” So, what the author here says about Timothy’s specialized ministry would apply, mutatis mutandis, to all Christians in their ministry. The author is reminding Timothy to return to that moment in his mind and heart in order to re-capture and rekindle the human, psychological, emotional enthusiasm. The author is not saying to recapture the Holy Spirit or to re-receive the Spirit. The Spirit was and is there always. Unlike the Old Testament conception whereby the Spirit would come and go, the New Testament understands the Spirit as abiding. It is our cooperation with the Spirit that electrifies us as well as the situations we are part of. All the “charisms” of which Paul spoke in his authentic letters need not be thought to have “rites of conferral” attached to them. After all, the Spirit “breathes where he will.” But ordination to specialized ministry does represent a certain “institutionalization” of the Spirit so far as Church office is concerned. Along with that would come a certain numbing and “succumbing to routine” of the enthusiasm and vitality the presence of the Spirit causes. Hence, the need to “rekindle” that freshness, flame and force.
In verse seven, “a spirit of cowardice,” the Pastoral Letters give lists of qualifications for, now, institutional leaders- bishops, presbyters, and deacons (1Tim 3: 1-13; 5: 17-23; Tit 1: 7-9). From what is said it is clear that the situation has changed. A person with qualities necessary to be an institutional leader is particularly vulnerable to having a “spirit of timidity. “Cowardice” may be too strong a translation. The Greek, deilia, “cowardice, timidity,” appears only here in the New Testament. It refers to the temperament of one who can administer and manage, especially details, but hardly one who could lead, in the sense that Paul was a leader. The old saying applies; “Managers do things right; leaders do right things.” The Church is struggling with the effects of becoming an institution, of keeping the Spirit paramount in a structure most ill suited to him. Apparently, in order to “keep the peace” and to conduct “business as usual,” “routine things done routinely,” Timothy has compromised on “power and love and sound judgment.” Associating the Spirit with power and love is very Pauline. The third term, “sound judgment,” a better translation of the Greek, sophronismos, than “self-control,” has a ring of prudential ethic to it that would be foreign to Paul’s authentic letters. No doubt the author is trying to infuse Paul’s “spirit” into a more Greek approach to conduct.