First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 21

William Loader

Pentecost 21: 29 October  1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Our passage begins with another, "you know", which we have seen comes frequently in the letter. Two more follow in our short passage (2:2; 2:5). It is an appeal both to what the Thessalonians knew and what Paul felt they ought to know and bear in mind. Why do this? We have to read between the lines, but Paul is obviously very keen to make these points and it has to do with his relationship with them. Thus Paul reminds them that he was not on a preaching tour to make money for himself. It cost him something. Had he not been genuine, he would have given up long ago. Paul is not prepared to surrender to those who want to belittle him and therefore his gospel. Paul is not prepared to compromise to avoid conflict on what really matters. Paul does not espouse the philosophy of peace at all costs.

We see further hints of his opposition in 2:3-4. It appears that some have been saying that he plays games, disregards spiritual purity and peddles wrong ideas. From other conflicts which Paul has we may suspect that the opposition comes from other Christian Jews who feel that he has abandoned the true Christian faith. That probably includes the accusation that he disregards biblical concerns about holiness and purity. In Galatians, too, he mentions the assertion that he is just out to please people. Behind this is the accusation that Paul ignores scripture's requirements to make it easier for Gentiles to fit in, not only by dropping the biblical command of circumcision but by saying that believers are no longer under the scripture (the Law).

For his opponents this is outrageous and infringes God's rights. How can anyone set aside scripture for the sake of making people feel at home? Paul, of course, sees it differently, arguing that all barriers to inclusiveness and compassion must be torn down. One of his protégés who wrote Ephesians even describes the scriptures (the Law) as a wall of enmity which must be dismantled (2:14-15). Paul sees this not as disrespect for the scriptures but as a way of reading them which does justice to what they are truly about. The issues which plagued Paul still plague the church today.

Paul is wanting to ensure the Thessalonians do not succumb to these people who want to undermine him. After all, it is not just a personal matter of his apostleship (2:7). It is about the heart of the gospel. The heart of that gospel is compassion and Paul reminds them that this actually characterised the way he related to them in the first place (2:5-8). He was not on a power trip. He was certainly not trying to make money for himself (2:5) - although his commitment to making a collection for the Christians in Judea always left him open to the accusation that this was a smokescreen for his own gain. Paul was intent on pleasing only God (2:6) and being one with God's compassion which is the heart of the gospel. He even uses the language of an oath to underline this reality (2:5), because he is confident about his accountability to God.

Paul's alternative stance leads him to identify with female images of care (2:7). Like a nurse caring for children, so Paul approached the Thessalonians. Paul was not wanting to win or to count or to master them. He crosses gender prejudices in his inclusiveness as he insists on consistency. His style of ministry was consistent with the gospel he preached. It was based not on coercion by biblical authority, but on biblical righteousness which as Paul understood it was intent to help people into a right relationship with God so that their lives would then become rightly oriented and their behaviour rightly expressed, measured by love. It made his opponents fear - for themselves and ultimately for God, whom they sought to defend by denouncing Paul. It was a tragedy already symbolised earlier in the event of the cross, but which perpetuates discrimination and destructiveness in the name of the gospel, as people fear a gospel of love and replace it by a message of fear and control.

Gospel  Pentecost 21: 29 October Matthew 22:34-46

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