Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Relationship, mentorship, and parent-like apprenticeship

two people hold bowl of cherry tomatoes
Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

September 25, 2022

Second Reading
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Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19

One of the ways through which we can understand a passage better and more deeply is by getting into the inner psychology or heart of the passage’s author, especially, for epistle passages written by a mentor figure to a mentee figure like 1 and 2 Timothy. This is certainly not a petty practice of eisegesis or a privatized form of reader response criticism. It is simply a healthy practice of interpretive imagination and fine homiletical reading of the author’s hidden motives and feelings under the textual surface. After all, weren’t Epistle passages produced for matters that involve serious human thoughts, deep emotions, and everyday actions? In the highly cerebral interpretive process, we often tend to ignore potential emotional involvement or feelings of the author or the text itself. Thus, occasionally we need to correct that process for holistic interpretation of the text.  

This week’s passage could be one of those good occasions as (like most parts of 1 and 2 Timothy) it involves Paul’s parental or mentor-like relationship with Timothy. Hence, as a critical all-around interpretive process, this is what we can do with the given passage. We can think of a deeply emotional-relational story—from real life or fictional, which we can use as an analogous-interpretive illumination on the passage and read it from that novel perspective. Then, we can end by briefly discussing some details of the text. Ready? Let’s dive in.

Some years ago, a couple I am acquainted with had their first baby girl. Since the mother was having minor gestational diabetes, they needed to get the baby out of the mother’s womb a little earlier. So, with the doctor’s recommendation, they decided to perform an induction. Everything went well; the mother got the medicine and they were simply waiting for her cervix to open enough so that they could get the baby out into the world. However, the cervix opening was delayed for more than ten or fifteen hours and the mother was in great pain for hours due to the prolonged labor as the baby was stuck somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, the baby was doing fine despite being stuck. 

Long story short, eventually, with the doctor’s guidance, the couple decided to have a C-section. Finally, the baby, healthy and sound, came from the mother into this world with the father also in the surgery room. The nurse, wrapping the baby with pink linen and soothing her, finally, placed the baby into the father’s hands. And just like any other parent would do, the father needed to make his promises to the baby and probably to himself too, “Beloved, I promise I will take good care of you. I will always be there whenever you need me. When you find yourself in trouble, surely, I will be your guardian angel! I will be there for you. And I will teach you well that you can survive and thrive in this troubled world. I want to be your good dad and good teacher. Trust me. You’re my child; you’re my child.” 

When reading this week’s passage, we may be easily able to imagine Paul, the beloved mentor and father figure for Timothy, holding Timothy’s hands in his aged hands or embracing him into his bosom with an open heart (recall how the father embraces his son into his bosom in Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, even though the general theme is radically different?) and gently whispering his encouragement and promises into Timothy’s ears, his spiritual son:

“Tim, my beloved, I want to take good care of you. I will be your father figure, and whenever you need me, I will always be there for you. And when you find yourself in trouble, remember that I will always rush to your rescue. I promise to teach you well that you can survive and thrive in this hostile world. Trust me, Tim, my beloved child. I will share all the wisdom I’ve got from years of experience so that you can do well in your ministry. Tim, my child, I will always be there for you. I will always be rooting for you!” 

Once we agree that if these might be the underlying emotions and feelings of Paul around the given passage, we’d better not read the passage imagining Paul like a fearless commander making charge orders to his soldiers on a battlefield. The commander’s bold charge would definitely be needed in the battlefield when necessary. Thus, we ought to have no objection to the commander doing so. However, once we begin to imagine Paul like a spiritual commander making moral or ethical orders when reading this passage (even threatening Timothy and other readers, like “If you don’t do well as I command, you will face deadly consequences here on earth and after!”), we could be totally lost in the interpretation process. Instead, we’d do better to keep Paul as a passionate and compassionate spiritual guide and mentor or a caring parent sharing precious life lessons with his children. 

Then, we should be ready to do deep and thorough reading of the given passage containing several moral, ethical, and spiritual “dos” and “don’ts” that the author wants his readers to practice: 

“if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these” (verse 8)

“the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (verse 10)

“pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” (verse 11)

“keep the commandment without spot or blame” (verse 14)

“command [the rich] not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather … to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” (verses 17-18).

Again, with this passage, it would be a short-sighted move to produce a sermon replete with neatly packed moral or ethical encouragements. At the core of all those messages is relationship, mentorship, and parent-like apprenticeship geared toward one’s multifaceted growth in faith. 

Then, somewhere in the middle of or at the end of the sermon, how about doing a fictional yet very probable paraphrased monologue of Paul gently but firmly rearing Timothy?

“Tim, NEVER get intimidated by the superficial richness of the world or simply by the rich and the powerful of this world. Your God, the heavenly host, is far richer than anyone else in the world. As a matter of fact, God is richer than the whole world; remember God is the creator of this world. So, stay firmly focused on God alone, which, of course, is not easy in this hyper neo-capitalistic and the survival-of-the-fittest kind of world. But still, stay focused on God, then you will see real changes in this seemingly rich yet deeply groaning world through the teachings of Christ and your exemplary life. Trust God, trust yourself, and become a dynamic instrument of the Holy Ghost. Yes, the Holy Ghost is upon you! Even in the midst of persecutions and threats, you will still be well. You will be triumphant. Tim! Tim! My child.”

This relational message would work well for many hearers seeking similar encouragement in their own situations akin to Timothy’s.