This week’s Sunday Second Reading at Mass comes from 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13:
And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe.
And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
Saints Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy arrived on their missionary mission in Greece about 50 C.E. (Christian Era) and after being being “insolently treated” (Cf. 1 Thess. 2:2) in Philippi traveled to Thessalonica where they met up with more persecutions from Jews and Gentiles alike. It was this brigade of persecutors that went on to follow them onto Beroea and Athens as well. Some of the problems that Paul frequently had to treat in his letters were those caused by itinerant peddlers of new religions and Judaizers (Cf. Galatians) who would plant seeds of doubt and confusion in the new communities of followers of Christ Jesus. One of Paul’s favorite tools to deal with this was employing contrasting arguments so that the communities could reflect and discern by example who came in their best interest.
In the instant case, leading up to v. 7, Paul writes 3“Our exhortation was not from delusion or impure motives, nor did it work through deception” 5“Nor, indeed, did we ever appear with flattering speech, as you know, or with a pretext for greed—God is witness—”, and 6-7a“nor did we seek praise from human beings, either from you or from others although we were able to impose our weight as apostles of Christ.” Having defined the evangelization tactics of the peddlers of new religions and Judaizers, in v. 7b Paul then begins to lay out the clear difference between them and the Apostles of Christ Jesus.
Rather, we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. Some well regarded manuscripts use the word ‘infants’ (Gk. nepioi) for “gentle” (Gk. epioi), which could be interpreted to create a competing metaphor with the second part sentence. Although the message here that is not to be missed is that, as Christ first came as an nepioi so do those who he sends. “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (John 20:18). Not as infants who can’t take care of themselves did they come, but, rather, as Christ Jesus they came – ready to be received by those who would hear His Word. The Apostle Paul then applied the metaphor of a wet nurse to remind them how they feed them The Word (Jesus) of God when they were with them.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. Here Paul continues his theme of how he, Timothy, and Silvanus not only imitating Christ as nepioi, but also in their self sacrifice for the sake of the Thessalonian’s Salvation. This was in contrast with the peddlers of new religions who came in the spirit of taking rather than giving. For St. Paul, the cornerstone of Christian evangelization is relationship and the foundation of relationship is mutual self-giving, but for their to be a mutual self-giving, one must first freely give himself away to the other without expectation of reciprocation. Therefore, when the love of Christ Jesus is freely given and then then freely returned, that is the first fruit of Christian evangelization. That is what Paul meant by them becoming beloved to the apostles.
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. Here is common theme that you read from Paul in the letters to the Thessalonians – that the apostles were self-supporting. Indeed, in Judaism, rabbis were expected to have a trade of their own; they were not part of the priestly class whose labors belonged solely to the Temple. Again, this is in contrast with the religion peddlers who came expecting their prospects to pay them for their teaching. And it is even a reminder for us today to be concerned first about giving away freely what was given to us freely. As faithful as Paul was to his mission and as successful he was in his mission, he was not a full-time Apostle or evangelist – he had a job that took care of his necessities and didn’t need love offerings or speaker fees from the people who he attended to.
And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe. For “receive” Paul uses the Greek word paralabontes; meaning traditional teaching received through word of mouth, which is a foundational structure of his theos of how The Word of God is conveyed (Cf. Rom. 9:6, 1 Cor. 14:36, 15:1-3; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). For Paul isn’t not through sola-scrptura (Scripture Alone) that The Word of God is contained or conveyed or has to power to transform; for, if it could be contained then it would be a human word, but because it is a Divine Word that moves from God through His creation and is received by those who are ready to hear. And for those who hear and believe, The Word of God becomes alive and works in them to draw in nearer to that point at the center of the Circle of Grace.
Together, (1) Being sent as Christ was sent (in the Holy Spirit, as a sacrifice), (2) Not being a burden to those to whom we are sent, and (3) Freely proclaiming the authentic Word of God without coercion, are the three indissoluble foundational pillars to Christian Evangelization. As long the evangelist is prayerful in these, he/she will be in a position to be best used by God to attend to the needs of His people.
Lord God, you created me in your image and likeness, and
sent your Son Jesus to empower me with all the graces necessary to
live in my calling to be Holy as you are Holy.
So me in my life where I am holding some of myself back from you
and where I can give even more of myself to you for your glory.
In Jesus’ Name I Pray. Amen.
Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.