Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall! Improving to the music of the harp, like David, they devise their own accompaniment. They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.(P) The word of the Lord.
Blessed is he who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free. (R)
The Lord gives sight to the blind; the Lord raises up those who were bowed down. The Lord loves the just; the Lord protects strangers. (R)
The fatherless and the widow he sustains, but the way of the wicked he thwarts. The Lord shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia. (R)
But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, 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.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames." Abraham replied, "My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours." He said, "Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment." But Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them." He said, "Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent." Then Abraham said, "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.""(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
In the last three weeks we have been reading and reflecting on the first letter of Saint Paul to Timothy. Let me briefly recap what we have learned so far. Paul establishes the Ephesian church; appoints Timothy as pastor and elder of the community and continues his missionary journey to other places. While he is in Macedonia he hears of some problems in the Ephesian church. As a senior pastor he writes to young Timothy to encourage him in his ministry, remind him of his responsibility and advise him to deal with the problems. So, he first instructs Timothy about false teaching, worship, leadership and the use of material goods. At the end of his letter he makes a strong and personal appeal to Timothy on his own spiritual development and discipline. We read a part of his personal instructions to Timothy in today's text. These instructions may seem harsh and demanding but they also reveal Paul's love and concern for Timothy and others.
Friends, Paul addresses Timothy as "Man of God." Man of God is one of the Old Testament titles given to the most powerful and faithful prophets and servants of God, like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, David and others. Who is a man of God? According to the scriptures a man of God is someone who completely trusts in God; someone who believes in the power of God and someone who belongs to God. For Timothy, the title, "man of God" must have been a great honor and encouragement.
Paul instructs Timothy that he must pursue virtues and noble qualities for he is "man of God". However, we must take note of the text starting with, "But you, man of God..." What was Paul's concern so that he says, "But you, man of God..."? In the verses before the above text Paul points out those teachers whose words contradict the teaching of Jesus Christ and whose actions go against godliness; whose deeds do not match their words and who are full of malice, greed, envy, slander, dissension and hatred towards one another. So, Paul warns Timothy of the evils prevalent among the teachers and leaders of the community and encourages him to pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. These virtues are not put haphazardly but in order of importance. William Barclay, a great theologian explains these virtues in the following way.
Righteousness refers to right living. It means one does what is right or due to both God and man. It is said to be the most comprehensive of virtues. This virtue points toward God and man. Devotion refers to reverence or respect towards God in one's life. Faith is simply trusting in God for everything. Love is the virtue of the man who remembers always what God has done for him and others. Ultimately such love also motivates the man to love his neighbor. These three virtues (devotion, faith and love) point toward God. Patience is endurance or perseverance. In spite of adversity and suffering one simply bears all things. The person who has the virtue of patience does not just accept the experiences but conquers them. This virtue points toward one's own life. Gentleness is the virtue which points toward others. The person with gentleness serves, loves and forgives others in great humility.
So, Paul encourages Timothy to pursue these virtues. Moreover Paul tells him to compete well for the faith. In other words, Timothy is reminded that the pursuit of these virtues is hard and a struggle. In order for Timothy to succeed Paul suggests four things:
Friends, these instructions are not just to Timothy and the early Christians but also to all of us. Through our baptism we have become children of God; man and woman of God. On the day of our baptism we have been claimed for Christ. So we do not belong to the world anymore but to God. Because we belong to God we are called upon to avoid the things of the world and to pursue the things of God. It is not by fleeing or avoiding evil alone we can find peace and joy in life but also by pursuing virtues - righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Today's gospel story is a perfect example of the most important of all virtues - righteousness. We must do what is due to both God and man. We read the parable of the rich man in hell and poor Lazarus with Abraham in heaven. Abraham who is a tremendous example of faith and righteousness reminds the rich man that he has failed to be righteous during his life on earth. We must also truly express our reverence, faith and love for God. We must be willing to endure all suffering and patiently wait for the coming of the Lord. We must be gentle toward our fellow human beings.
However, pursuing these virtues will never be easy. We may belong to God, but we still live in the world, and so we will experience a constant struggle between the things of the world and the things of God. As we struggle in pursuit of these virtues let us remember and meditate upon what Paul recommends.
Let us remember first and foremost that we have pledged ourselves to Jesus Christ through our confession of faith. We profess often, "I believe in God, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth..." In other words, at the time of baptism and each time through the profession of faith we declare Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Second, let us remember that our confession of faith in Jesus as our Lord includes our pledge to do what our Lord has done; pledge to undergo suffering as He has undergone. In the profession of faith we not only proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior but also make a pledge before many witnesses that we accept and believe in the Lord who was betrayed, crucified, died and rose again. Third, let us be reminded of the coming of Christ at the time of our death and that our whole life is a preparation for seeing God face to face.
Finally, as a Christian leader or parent let us pay careful attention to our personal piety and religious practices before we teach and encourage others to pursue these virtues. Let us first pursue the virtues of righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Let us offer our love, forgiveness, kindness and compassion to someone not because the person is our spouse or friend or brother or sister or master or servant but because we are men and women of God; we are people of God.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!