1 Timothy 1:12–17
(quoted throughout)
For those of you who attend daily Mass, or follow the daily Mass readings, let me tell you straight up: you are not hearing things, and if you caught that we read the same verses Friday and today… You were right! I think this is one of the only times this happens. It happens more often with the Gospels, but almost never with Paul’s letters. And since I like to preach from Paul’s letters, would you like to take a guess at what I’m going to focus on?
This section is among the best evidence we have that this letter to Timothy is from St. Paul. Can you imagine one of his followers calling him a blasphemer or arrogant or as a foremost sinner? Paul is laying out his own failures for Timothy to understand.
But I want to focus on Paul’s understanding of himself a little bit more. Consider this. Paul believed when he was persecuting the early church that he was doing the best thing for Judaism. He believed he was following what God wanted.
This is important to remember, because Paul was anxious to follow God. He discovered that he was going against God. That is why he labeled himself as a blasphemer, and as a foremost sinner.
It is not a smart thing to try to fight God. But to fight for God? That is the best type of battle we can get into. But, if we start fighting and realize that we are fighting against God – we need to change which side we are on.
Yesterday was the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It is where God entered the most powerful battle against evil. And he won! This is the declaration that Paul is making at the very end of our reading. He makes it again in a similar way at the very end of his letter to Timothy. This is from our reading: “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. ”
And this is from the end of the entire letter to Timothy: ” I charge [you] before God, … to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.”
Paul is telling us that he has placed everything of his own life under the submission of the King of Kings. He’s urging Timothy to do the same and throughout his letter to Timothy is giving him instructions on how to help lead the church into the holiness that God wants us all to live in. Paul recognizes who is the king, the master, the one he owes everything to.
Because yesterday was the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, I think it is a good idea for us to see in Paul’s letter to Timothy a call to acknowledge that triumph. A call to rally around the banner of the cross.
In the middle of our reading today, Paul gives us a very simple statement: “the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Paul sees for himself, and for Timothy… and for all of us, the marvelous nature of the grace and love of Jesus. This is where the triumph of the cross can come into our own lives.
Last night we had a reading from the feast day from the letter of Paul to the Philippians where he said that because of what Jesus did every knee in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth must bend and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the father: Jesus Christ is Lord!”
I think this closing line from the reading today, along with the quote from Philippians, gives us an intimate look into who Jesus is for St. Paul. He has already pointed out that he has been forgiven tremendous sins.
Then he reminds Timothy of Christ’s patience for all who would come to believe in him. Then he breaks into this spontaneous little moment of praise, a moment of praise that should excite our souls as well: “to the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
It somewhat reminds me of one of our simple Catholic prayers: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.”
Paul lived within intimate and tireless love for Jesus, and therefore the same love for his church. This is what he was urging Timothy on to. It is also what he urges us to in our spiritual lives. God mercifully brought Paul into a relationship with himself. Paul wants all of us to have the same. Can you say you have the same fire of love for God that Paul exhibited in his letters? Only you and God can answer that question.