First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 26

William Loader

Pentecost 26: 13 November  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Of course we all agree that people should work. There is, however, more to it than that behind our passage. Paul, himself, became notorious for doing just that: working, instead of living from the hospitality of those among he conducted his mission. He had to defend himself to the Corinthians for what appeared on the one hand as the insult of refusing hospitality, a serious issue in his society - after all he received monetary help from Philippi! - and on the other hand his apparent lack of faith and trust in God to meet his needs. What is more, Paul's strategy of working ran contrary to the instructions of Jesus, both as Paul knew them (1 Cor 9:14) and as we know them from Mark 6 and the parallels in Matthew 10 and Luke 9 and 10. Writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul has to explain himself against this background. By the time he wrote 2 Corinthians the insults had begun to fly thick and fast. Paul was a sham. He was making a large collection of money on the side, which he alleged he was taking to Jerusalem. It became a pastoral disaster. We see it at its height in 2 Cor 10-13.

In this letter Paul, or at least one who reveres him and his heritage enough to write in his name, urges that people follow his example and work. Are they not simply asking for trouble? Paul is to be admired that he was not a fundamentalist, even with the words of Jesus. They were not printed in red in his tradition to be followed to the letter in a manner which would betray the spirit of what Jesus was about. New situations required new solutions. Paul was being creative. It was a test for those who had set views and expectations.

There is evidence that itinerant preachers were becoming a problem as Christianity developed in the second half of the first century. Already in Paul's time he was aware that some were taking advantage of congregations and acting in their own interests. Tourist preachers could have a great time at the expense of locals. They would acquire great references, letters of commendation, setting out their spiritual achievements and then making claims for financial support. It was exploitation (2 Cor 2:17; 4:2; 11:20!). Paul refused to play that kind of game, even holding their strategies up to ridicule by compiling his own list of achievements, just to show he could, in 2 Cor 11:21b-33, but then collapsing it at its peak in 2 Cor 12 when he might have made big claims as a visionary, to declare that his confidence was based on Christ's brokenness and his own in love and nothing else (12:1-10). That grace was enough (sufficient) for him. Let who he is and what he does speak for themselves.

From elsewhere, such as the Didache and 2 John, we know that it became necessary to be very careful about visiting preachers. Some outstayed their welcome and were leeches on congregations. Paul's model made better sense. That is the model espoused here. Let's not have people sponging off the congregation. Let them work and pay their way! This would cut out many of the abuses. The church had to face such realities then. It still needs to be grounded in its approach to resources and employment. That has two sides to it, because exploitation can work both ways. It is silly to insist we follow Paul's model at all times, just as he saw it as inappropriate to follow Jesus' model and instructions at times. Paul's model is likely to become increasingly relevant in contexts where congregations can no longer afford paid ministers. Sometimes it is appropriate even when they can. Jesus' model of congregations giving a stipend of livelihood to preachers is also equally appropriate at times. Abuse and exploitation, however, are never appropriate.

Gospel: Pentecost 26: 13 November Luke 21:5-19

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