Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Devotion of Friends

The second reading for the Morning Office today (2 Timothy 1:15-2:13) is touching excerpt from St. Paul to his "beloved child", Timothy.

"You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me—may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus."
How hard it is for all of us when people whom you counted as friends "turn away" from you. It seems that, most of the time, the differences which separate us are extremely petty things, or at least thing which could be mutually worked through with a little patience and rationality. Sometimes the separations are because of deeply-felt, cherished or ingrained convictions and beliefs. Even here, I believe one could find ways to "agree to disagree" and maintain at least a basic friendship. Whatever it was between Paul and Phygelus and Hermogenes, it was serious and those departing felt that they had good reason. Shakespeare holds that "Parting is such sweet sorrow...". If it does nothing else, it helps us appreciate the ones in our lives who do care, people committed to sticking with us through thick and thin. Paul intimates that his friend, Onesiphorus, possibly recently deceased from what Paul intimates, was such a person. Not only was he not ashamed of Paul when Paul fell on hard times: he sought Paul out, "eagerly", and came to his aid. 

"You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things."
Paul then addresses his friend and disciple, Timothy, and encourages him to continue to be the kind of friend to Paul that Onesiphorus was. Paul, though absent, urges and encourages Timothy in his ministry to depend, not on his own strength, but on the power of Christ Jesus. He wants Timothy to continue Paul's own work of passing on, entrusting, the living Word of good news to receptive people, "faithful" people, people on whom Timothy can count to, in their turn, pass on and entrust and teach the message of God's reign to others. Paul is very direct about the cost: Timothy will suffer. He'll need to struggle to keep focused on essentials and avoid getting bogged down in mundane, peripheral things. Like an athelete, in order to be successful, Timothy needs to operate according to "the rules". It will entail hard work, such as a farmer experiences when the push is on to sow, to tend, and then to gather in the crops. Devotion is what Timothy needs to develop and nurture, and that will come, Paul says, from God who is the source of it "in all things".

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself."
 For Paul the "gospel" is not just a message, a word, but a Person: Jesus Christ, someone who was truly a human being: in fact, one whose forbear was the great King David himself; and someone who is the Risen Christ, who died and lives, who endured suffering and now reigns, whose very essence is faithfulness, dependability, friendship and love. In essence, Paul is reminding Timothy: "What a friend we have in Jesus...", unlike Phygelus and Hermogenes, but so like Onesiphorus, one who'll never turn away.

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