Lectionary Commentaries for October 23, 2011
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Matthew 22:34-46

Clayton Schmit

Here ends, in this passage, the disputations and entrapments orchestrated by religious leaders during Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem.

They had been at it for a while. In Matthew’s telling of the story, on this Tuesday of Holy Week Jesus was involved in a long series of disputations with Sadducees, lawyers, chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees, and their disciples.

In each confrontation, he proves himself more careful, clever, and inspired than his adversaries. When Jesus questions them about the messiah and his relationship to David, they are stumped and finally silenced (22:41-46).

But before being silenced, a legal expert from among the Pharisees asks Jesus one last question in order to test him, “Which commandment in the law is greatest?” (22:36). For him to answer wisely will be a confirmation of his teaching authority. It seems that after a long day of verbal battle, even the Pharisees begin to lose steam and wonder whether their efforts had been worthwhile. 

Jesus’ answer is classic. Loving God is the first thing, the most important thing. But, with it comes a corollary: to love God means that you also love God’s people. The ancient rabbis put it in similar terms: “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law.” 

What more can be said after this? Silenced, the Pharisees finally withdraw from the fight. On the next day, they hatch the plan that will remove this trouble-making prophet and permanently silence him.

The key problem in interpreting this double commandment for our time is that we lose sight of the biblical meaning of love. Our culture has equated love with intense emotion. To love is a stronger response than to like. And, both are measures of a passive response to something outside us.

We like chocolate: we cannot help ourselves. We love a movie: it entertains or moves us. We love a boy or girlfriend: they make us happy. We love a spouse: they complete us.

But, biblical love is not passive and it is not strictly emotional. In the Old Testament, there are references to many kinds of love, but the love referred to here by Jesus is the love of Deuteronomy 6:5, the love of Yahweh. This love is far from passive. It is the active response of the faithful person to the love of God. 

God’s love is also active. God chooses (elects) to love Israel above all nations and to bring his love through this chosen people. To love God with all one’s heart, and soul, and mind, is to choose to respond to God even as God chooses to love us. Feelings and emotions do not enter into the equation.

In the New Testament, the principle word used for love is agape. Like philia, or brotherly love, it is a passionless love. Eros is the word for passion or desire. The latter two are used sparingly in the New Testament. Agape in the gospels has some connection to emotion, where God cares for God’s creatures and creation.

But, chiefly, it refers to what can be called loving-kindness. It is not passive emotion, but active mercy. It is marked by patience and generosity, again, both acts generated by the one who loves.  In short, loving is a choice, not a feeling.

If we can replace in our listeners’ minds the cultural clichés about love with a biblical understanding of love, we can begin to make our way with preaching on this text. 

To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul seems nearly impossible when we think of love as an emotion. How does one conjure up feelings for something as remote, mysterious, and disembodied as the concept of God? We cannot look into God’s eyes, wrap our arms around the Spirit, or even see the face of Jesus.

If we could, that might evoke in us a profound feeling of love. We might fall in love with Jesus’ beauty and grace if we could know him as Mary and Martha did. But, we are commanded to love an intangible God. It is likely that many of our listeners will admit failure in feeling a deep, abiding affection for a God who is often distant and unknown. Nonetheless, to love God is our duty as Christians. 

Likewise, loving our neighbor is difficult. If love is merely our passive response to the person next to us, we are likely to be more often repulsed than moved to love. How can one legitimately look into the face of an enemy and feel unqualified love? It is nearly impossible.

But, biblical love is not passive. It is not something that occurs to us without our control or will. Biblical love is something we do. It is loving-kindness, merciful action that is both generous and continuous. Herein is the good news for Christian people. To love neighbor as oneself is to act toward the other as one would act toward those close to you. We treat the stranger as well as we treat those that we love emotionally.

When the action to each is equal, the love to each is equal. This is counter to what we expect, but it is in keeping with what the commandment requires. This means that, to those with whom we are intimate, to those we do not know, to those who may be dirty or repugnant, and even to those who harm us, we can act according to the law of love. We can be merciful and gracious. To love the neighbor as ourselves is to make a conscious choice and act upon it. 

And what about love of God? Again, as God chose Israel and elected to forgive her at every offense, so we can chose God and serve him in every way. We can love with our heart: through generosity to God’s people. We can love with our soul: by worshiping God and praying for our neighbors and ourselves. And we can love with our minds: studying God’s Word and letting it correct us, enlighten us, and send us out in loving action to the world. 

See how these commandments are connected, “the greatest commandment” and the “second, which is like it”? When we love God’s people, we are always, and at the same time loving God. 

They are inseparable. Surprisingly, sometimes our emotions follow suit and we actually feel a love of other, or a love of God. But the emotion is not commanded. Only the action of love is commanded. In Christ, this we can do, even when we don’t feel like it.

First Reading

Commentary on Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Fred Gaiser

Preachers really should talk about Leviticus, since it can cause great confusion and division among Christians.

Interpretations vary all the way from the Marcionate/Bultmannian dismissal of the whole Old Testament, to Luther’s (in)famous pronouncement: “Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service,”1 to the direct and literal application of Levitical law on the part of some Christian groups (though, even then, few would include, say, the sacrificial regulations as a present requirement). So, what is a preacher to do? Even more, what is a parishioner to do?

Jesus will help us here! When he pronounces “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” to be the second greatest commandment in this week’s Gospel (Matthew 22:39; see Leviticus 19:18), he sets up a canon within the canon that marks his own faith and shapes ours forever. Had he chosen, perhaps, “You shall not … tattoo any marks upon you” (Leviticus 19:28) as the second commandment, we would be in an entirely different religion (and we would have a lot fewer young adults in church). Still, how are we to understand a book where “no tattoos” stands as a “thou shalt not” just ten verses away from “love your neighbor” as a “thou shalt”?

If we are to preach on this text, we should preach on Leviticus. That is, our sermon should not be the same as one on Matthew 22. Leviticus is about holiness: God’s holiness and the holiness of God’s people. “Holy” appears in Leviticus far more frequently than in any other biblical book. Because of this concentration, scholars have often called Leviticus 17-26 the “Holiness Code,” understanding it as a separate source within Israel’s legal traditions.

If you speak of this, however, beware of how you use the term “code,” for you don’t want to feed the “Da Vinci Code” madness that understands the Bible, or parts thereof, to be encrypted, requiring some kind of “magic” key to decipher. Remember that Leviticus — indeed, the whole Bible — decries and forbids magic (Leviticus 19:31). Happily, the Bible is an open WYSIWYG book, that is, “what you see is what you get.”

The “key” to understanding Leviticus’s emphasis on holiness is not hidden: human holiness, Leviticus insists, derives from God’s holiness. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (19:2). Levitical holiness (or biblical holiness), then, is not a human attribute to be obtained through our own righteousness (and surely not a “holier than thou” perspective); it is a divine gift, in which we partake of God’s own holiness, just as humans partake of God’s own image. “You shall be holy,” like so many of the Old Testament apodictic laws, can also be read as promise: “Because I am holy, you will be holy. It is my gift to you. It is who you are.”

What will this holiness look like? On the one hand, God is holy because God is Other, and this divine holiness makes God dangerous. Don’t come too close, lest you die (see 2 Samuel 6:6-7).

Holiness is not wrath or caprice; it is not, “Don’t come near or I will kill you.” Holiness is inherent in the nature of God. Think, God as blast furnace. Don’t draw near! The furnace kills not because it is angry, but merely because it is hot. This clear understanding that God is God, and we are not, is why Israel was given or developed the elaborate laws of purity and sacrifice, with which Leviticus is rife, in order precisely to allow people to come into God’s presence (which God desires) without danger.

If holiness is in God’s nature, however, it is important to understand that nature. Leviticus 19 begins with a call to be holy, for “I the Lord your God am holy,” and it ends (an inclusio) by telling us what this means: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (19:36). True, God is Other simply because God is God, but — perhaps even more important for biblical theology — God is Other because God liberates captives, sets people free, stands opposed to tyrants and oppressors (the preacher might extend this to the oppressors within us as well as those outside ourselves).

Isaiah makes this clear: God, the “Holy One of Israel,” redeems Israel (frees from captivity), because — surprisingly, for a God who is Other — “I love you” (Isaiah 43:3-4). This same divine nature informs our chapter of Leviticus, with its insistence that Israel (because it mirrors God’s own holiness) should reserve food for the poor and the alien (19:10), not defraud others or withhold fair wages (verse 13), care for the blind (verse 14), not show partiality in law (verse 15), not hate or take vengeance (verse 18), care for the aged (verse 32), not cheat (verses 35-36), and–again, surprisingly, for a people who understood itself to be uniquely the people of God — love not only the neighbor but also the alien as oneself (verse 34). Observing such laws in virtually any human society will mark a people as other, partaking of the otherness of a remarkable God.

This love for the other is the “key” that unlocks the strangeness of Leviticus for modern readers. The early Jewish rabbis understood this clearly, which is why they, like Jesus, saw this verse as the most basic law in the Old Testament. Jesus stands firmly in this tradition. Any form of religion that belittles the other for the sake of self will get Leviticus wrong and get Jesus wrong. Any legalism that binds people in the name of religion rather than setting them free will get Leviticus wrong and get Jesus wrong.

The New Testament does not erase the otherness of God, nor does it invent the command to love. It does, however, provide different access to this dangerous God than the purity laws of ancient Israel. Now, access is given through Jesus, God’s own son, who becomes the door or gateway into the divine presence, into the divine Love that embraces all — ourselves, our neighbors, and any we might understand to be “aliens.”

1See Luther’s 1525 sermon on “How Christians Should Regard Moses,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1960), 165.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

Time flies.

Last Sunday, we were privy to a conversation between Moses and God at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. Today, we come to the end of that story, the story of Moses and the Exodus. We come also to the end of the book of Deuteronomy and the end of the portion of the Bible known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.

And at this important juncture of the biblical narrative, the story that occupies our attention is that of the death of Moses. His life has spanned the last four biblical books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. He has figured prominently in almost every story contained therein. He has led the Israelites for 40 years, out of slavery in Egypt, to Mt. Sinai, through many trials, and now they stand at the cusp of the Promised Land, about to enter into the promise God made so many generations ago to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (verse 4).

But Moses is not permitted to enter the land.

The injustice of the situation has troubled commentators for centuries. Earlier, in Deuteronomy 32:48-52, God says that Moses is not allowed to enter the land because he failed to show God’s holiness before the people at the waters of Meribah (Numbers 20:1-13). It is hard to discern in that story, however, what exactly Moses does wrong. Most commentators who try to solve the puzzle note that he strikes the rock twice instead of speaking to it, as God had commanded. And he says, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” perhaps thereby claiming to be the source of the miracle, rather than giving credit to God (Numbers 20:10).

Such infractions seem insignificant, however, in the face of all that Moses has done right. He has performed “signs and wonders” (verse 11) in the land of Egypt, leading his people out of slavery into freedom. He has led the people faithfully throughout their wilderness wandering. He has, on more than one occasion, interceded for them with God, averting God’s righteous anger. Of all the Israelites, surely Moses, “the servant of the LORD” (verse 5) deserves most of all to enter into the land. But he cannot.

Patrick Miller suggests that in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is understood as a sort of suffering servant: “[T]he judgment on Moses is for their sin (1:34-37). Moses does not share their fearful perspective, but he shares their existence and so must suffer with them.”1 In the passage Miller cites, God is angry with the Israelites for their lack of trust, and Moses is included in the punishment: “Even with me the LORD was angry on your account, saying, ‘You also shall not enter there'” (Deuteronomy 1:37). No mention is made here of the story in Numbers. Instead, Moses as the leader of the people is punished for the sin of the people.2

It is ambiguous, then, why Moses is not permitted entry into the Promised Land. Is it because of the incident at Meribah? Is it because of the people’s sin? Arguments can be made on both sides. In the passage for today, no reason at all is given. It is simply stated that Moses will not enter the land. The pathos of that situation is left to stand alone. But there are other things to note about the passage.

Though Moses is not permitted to enter the land, he is given an extraordinary vision of it. Starting in the north, and sweeping west and south, Moses sees the land that God is giving the Israelites. Standing on the border of that land, Moses sees the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises God made so long ago to the patriarchs. As a later writer said of the patriarchs, Moses “died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance [he] saw and greeted them” (Hebrews 11:13).

Moses is in a now-and-not-yet time. He stands on the border of the Promised Land, but will not enter there. Whatever the reasons for Moses’ situation, perhaps it speaks more directly to people’s experiences than had he been permitted to enter the land. I daresay that most of the people who hear this story this Sunday will know something of disappointment and dreams unfulfilled. Many people will recognize the feeling of being in a now-and-not-yet time, trusting in promises that have not yet been fully realized, but living by faith nonetheless.

This story has spoken to people of faith, Jews and Christians, through the centuries. Jewish congregations traditionally read through the Torah (the Pentateuch) every year, ending with this story and beginning immediately again with Genesis 1. That experience of being always (liturgically) outside the Promised Land is one that has helped form the identity of that community of faith through centuries of being — quite literally — outside the Promised Land. For Christians through the centuries, on the other hand, this story has spoken of the now-and-not-yet time between Christ’s first and second coming. For both communities, this story has encouraged faith.

One of the most striking uses of this text, of course, is in the speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. He addressed the crowd in Memphis:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people will get to the promised land.3

That great modern-day prophet used the story of Israel’s first great prophet to speak of hope and faith to a people who needed both. That story can continue to speak to people today who, even in the midst of disappointment, live by faith in the God of Moses, the God who does indeed fulfill promises.

1Patrick Miller, Deuteronomy (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 43.
2For similar passages that speak of Moses suffering for the sake of the people, see Deut 3:23-27 and 4:21-22.
3A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperCollins, 1986), 286.


Commentary on Psalm 1

James Howell

How fascinating: the book of Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible, the hymnal of ancient Israel, opens with a poem about ethics, lifestyle, and decisions.

It is as if the secret tip is being shared before we bother praying or worshiping. The goal is a changed life. God requires a decision, it’s black and white, and God wants to pervade the part of you that chooses. A thousand little decisions and the occasional Big Decision: do you “walk in the counsel of the wicked or delight in the law of the Lord?”

Once the choice is framed this way, it’s no choice at all, is it? I mean, you would never knowingly choose evil or destruction. Will I jump off a cliff? Or sit down to a sumptuous dinner with those I love? Will I ruin my life? Or fulfill my destiny?

But if the choice is so easy, why then do we find our ears perking up to the whispering of wickedness? And why would our attitude toward “the law of the Lord” not be fairly characterized as “delight?”

The “counsel of the wicked” is sneaky, isn’t it? The devil doesn’t jump out in a red suit, breathing fire, and wielding a blazing pitchfork. No, the devil dresses up like an angel of light, promising you the moon.

The “good life” is defined by society in ways that mimic the good life God offers, yet different enough to fool us. Then, we are led to a vapid life that pays little attention to God and leaves us hollow inside: wealth, pleasure, leisure — not evil — but a bit out of kilter with God’s adventure, which would be the richness of generosity and prayer, the pleasure of service and worship, and the leisure of Sabbath rest and silence in the presence of God.

Society says, “Don’t break the law, maximize your portfolio, travel and relish the party circuit.” But the Psalm shakes its head and pities us for missing out on the “delight in the law of the Lord.”

Part of our quandary is this: Robert Frost wrote “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry that I could not travel both…”1  But we think we can travel both — and not only both, but other roads as well. I’m in a clearing, four roads diverge, and I can’t miss a thing:  I’ll take all four!

But we cannot take four, or seven, or even two. You wind up splintered, divided, out of focus. The “road less traveled,” the way of him whose delight is in the law of the Lord, seems boring or restrictive, when in fact it is the true joy of every heart.

“Blessed is the man … whose delight is in the law of the Lord.” Some scholars like to translate “blessed” as “happy,” although we had better be careful. Our frenetic quest for “happiness” can deflect us from God.

My friend and Psalms scholar Clint McCann put it well: “For Psalm 1, happiness involves not enjoying oneself but delight in the teaching of God. The goal of life is to be found not in self-fulfillment but in praising God. Prosperity does not involve getting what one wants; rather, it comes from being connected to the source of life.”2

Delight in the law of the Lord
How do we learn to praise? How do we become “connected to the source of life?” We block out time for prayer, we never miss worship, and we become daily students of Scripture.

But it’s even more. Of the blessed one, Psalm 1 says “On God’s law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). At Qumran, the Essenes took this seriously, and scheduled it so that somebody from their village was studying and copying Scripture by hand twenty four hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year.

We can’t stay up all night reading the Bible, and we have to earn a living, eat, clean the house, and exercise. But is there a way to make “the law of the Lord” a streaming, omnipresent reality in our daily routine?

We begin by making a devotional regimen as essential as brushing our teeth. Maybe we plant little mnemonic devices (a cross, a printed prayer, a picture of St. Francis) in the desk, bathroom, kitchen, or car.

But can we begin to conceive of God as a constant companion?

Sometimes I travel alone, and it’s not as much fun as traveling with my wife, my children, or a friend. We share in the joy of walking together, settling down for a meal, and chatting over the highlights and challenges of the day.

Without these companions though, can we comprehend that we are never alone and God is there beside us wherever we find ourselves?

I talk to myself more than I like to admit. Can I talk instead to God? Can what I studied when I opened my Bible last night or this morning come alive in a seemingly non-religious situation? Do I behave differently if God is there?

Isn’t the comfort of God’s lingering presence the holy solution to the nagging loneliness we bear deep inside?

And don’t underestimate the crucial need we have to become diligent students of Scripture. I know some people love Bible study, and to others it feels corny and irrelevant. But, Jesus called “disciples” — a word which means “students.”

God wants to be known, understood, reflected upon in the mind, and explored intellectually. We are wired to discover immense fulfillment in the simple probing of the heart and nature of God, in the mental stimulation of reliving the Bible’s stories and singing its songs.

Like a tree

The Christian life is not pretending to be somebody I am not, but rather discovering who I really am, and then being that person, authentically and zealously.

Thomas Merton said, “A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. It ‘consents’ to His creative love. It expresses an idea which is in God’s mind. So the more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him.”3
What if I think of myself as an idea in God’s mind? The more I consent to be what God made me to be, the more I am like God.

Trees never try to be something else, like wart hogs or sledge hammers. They are content to be trees. But you and I struggle. We can be whoever we want to be, but the less I am in sync with God’s plan, the more hollow I become. I cannot find truth and meaning just any old place.

Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Am I like a tree?

My life is not my own: I depend on the sun, the rain, the grace and power of God which I do not control but only soak up as precious gifts. I live in the light, but my roots go down deep where it is dark.

Holiness is not a matter of gritting our teeth and diligently trying to do what God requires. We may grit our teeth, and we do try hard. But I am not able to do what God wants of me. I am not capable of the life God wants for me.

A changed life is the gift of God’s Spirit. Paul described this new life, the life for which we were made, as “the fruit of the Spirit;” not “the fruit of my good intentions.” “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22).

We feel our arms stretched upward, our roots deep, and we are trees giving glory to God, swayed only by the wind of the Spirit, watered by the grace of Baptism.

1From the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
2J. Clinton McCann, Jr. and James C. Howell, Preaching the Psalms (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001).
3Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1972).

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Holly Hearon

In chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy remind the community of the time they spent in their midst.

Building on the theme of God’s word, I will explore the phrase “being bearers of God’s word.” I think it is helpful to press the point that Paul is not working alone here; he has co-workers. Timothy and Silvanus also were with Paul in Corinth where, he says, they proclaimed the gospel alongside of him (2 Corinthians 1:19), and Timothy frequently visited communities that they had established together (1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:19). While each of us witnesses to the Gospel in the course of our individual lives, we also do so in community and as a community.

Courage to proclaim

It takes courage to proclaim the Gospel. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy came to Thessalonica after being “shamefully mistreated” in Philippi. Elsewhere, Paul lists the many ways he has suffered on behalf of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:16b-27). Today, we read in the paper of Christians in countries around the world who face arrest and even death for daring to proclaim the Gospel. But what about us? It seems to me that a different kind of courage is required of those of us who live in countries that celebrate freedom of expression with respect to religion and honor that freedom for all the religions that are represented among our countries’ citizens. What kind of courage does it take in our context?

We often associate courage with bravery, or even bravado, but courage can take many forms. It strikes me that courage is related to confidence. It is a confidence, however, that is less about being right than being comfortable in our own skin. It is a confidence that allows us to remain non-defensive when challenged; to listen respectfully to others recognizing that God may be speaking to us through them; a confidence that is not smug, but generous.

This confidence translates into a courage that enables us to take a step outside our comfort zone, to risk more than we’ve been willing to risk before, to work alongside people who are new to us, and to trust that God, who has entrusted us with the Gospel, will help us to discern what it means to be a faithful witness in each new context and encounter.

Pleasing God

These verses make much of pleasing God rather than humans. As a youngest child, I know a lot about pleasing those in authority. In fact, it gave me special delight when I was singled out as the good child in contrast to my siblings. Of course, my real interest was the praise I might garner for myself rather than pleasing my parents. This is a good reminder that there is always that slight danger, when we set out to please, that it is really all about us and not, in fact, about pleasing the other.

So, what does it mean to please God in our proclamation of the Gospel? It means being faithful to the Gospel, of course, but it is more than that. God witnesses our actions and tests our heart. For me, pleasing God means responding to others in the same way that God has responded to me: with generosity and grace. It also means recognizing that what I say and do either shines light or casts a shadow on God; I can be a path or an obstacle. It also means being humble enough to acknowledge that I do not have a corner on the Gospel and what it means; I must discern when to speak or act, and when to let another speak or act.

In contrast, what does it mean to please humans rather than God? Today, pleasing humans is often thought of in terms of allowing or even approving moral behavior that is viewed as contrary to the Gospel. This is a concern that is lifted up elsewhere in the letter (4:1-8), where the Thessalonians are reminded to exercise control over their passions (in contrast to the Gentiles, i.e., non-Jews) and not to exploit economically their brother or sister (pleonetein = cheat, get the better of).

However, in chapter 2 the concern is for how those carrying the word comport themselves in relation to those receiving the word.  Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy say that, on the one hand, they did not flatter the Thessalonians in an attempt to get money out of them nor, on the other hand, did they seek to be flattered by the Thessalonians in order to gain the praise or privileges that an apostle might expect. The concern here is motive: not just what we hope to accomplish, but also (if we are honest) what it is that we hope to gain. There is nothing wrong with gaining satisfaction, or pleasure, but praise or privilege easily displaces the focus, drawing it to ourselves rather than God.

Sharing Ourselves

I am particularly struck that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy share with the Thessalonians not only the Gospel of God, but their own selves. This suggests to me that sharing the word requires a willingness on our part to be vulnerable; to not only share what we know, but how we strive to live what we know and the failings and doubts we have encountered along the way. The images that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy use are of a nurse tending to young children (2:7) and, later, a parent, who urges and encourages them — even pleads with them — to live a life worthy of God (2:11).

What have we learned on our own journeys of faith that would make us trustworthy guides to others? To what degree do we need to let others discover their own paths? As they do so, what gifts of knowledge, faith, and insight might they return to us if we are willing to receive them?