Monday, May 24, 2010

Begining the Pastorals

Monday, May 24, 2010 -- Week of Proper 3, Year Two
Jackson Kemper, First Missionary Bishop in the U.S., 1870

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 969)
Psalms 25 (morning)       9, 15 (evening)
Proverbs 10:1-12
1 Timothy 1:1-17
Matthew 12:22-32

We start reading 1 Timothy today, the longest of the "Pastoral Letters" of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.  These writings were not included in many of the early lists of the Christian scriptures, and they were not accepted until after around 175 CE.  They are pseudonymous writings, attributed to Paul, but written much later than Paul's life.  The author intends to speak in Paul's tradition and with Paul's authority.  (The Book of Daniel is another pseudonymous book.)

1 Timothy shares some language with the genuine letters of Paul, but the meaning of some Pauline words is different.  In Paul's letters, the word "righteousness" means the relationship of being justified before God thanks to the free gift of grace through Jesus.  In the Pastoral Epistles "righteousness" means moral uprightness -- good behavior.  (In some sense, the same word is used in an almost opposite meaning.)  In Paul's letters "faith" is used more like a verb -- faith is active trust in God.  "Faith" in the Pastorals is more of a noun -- an objective body of traditions and teachings that one is to guard and protect.

By the time these letters are written, the expectation of Jesus' immanent return has waned.  Some of Paul's early writings are dominated by the expectation that Jesus will return very soon and inaugurate the new age.  Some of Paul's teaching has been called an "interim ethic,"  such as his encouragement of young widows to remain single and celibate.  There was little point to plan a new family when the end is so near.  The Pastoral letters do not speak of the second coming of Jesus, but rather of his "epiphany -- appearance."

The overriding concern of Paul was to inspire a trusting response to the gift of grace through which God reconciles us to God and frees us to be charitable toward one another.  The central concern of the Pastorals is the ordering of the community of the churches -- the establishment of an institution.  In several ways the church of this later era is rather different from the church of Paul's era.  Paul expressed support for women and gave them active roles of leadership in his churches.  The Pastoral Epistles reverse this.  Paul endorsed a charismatic authority.  In the Pastorals, the figure of Paul becomes the final authority. 

As we open this first reading from 1 Timothy, the writer commends "the divine training that is known by faith."  He continues to say that "the aim of such instruction is love."  That is a statement which is consistent with the core of Christian tradition from Jesus through Paul and on to the later Epistles.  This writer urges us to follow love -- the "love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith."

Shifting to the Gospel reading, we see Jesus acting in love toward a deaf-mute demoniac.  Conventional behavior would only have regarded the man as an object of evil, someone deserving his punishment by God or by the demons.  Jesus challenges their conventions by healing the man.  The authorities are not pleased with such a challenge.  They impute Jesus' acts to evil.  "It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons." 

Jesus reacts strongly when these others see good and call it evil, see love and call it demonic.  After a brief argument about a house divided, Matthew's Jesus sets down one of the starkest dividing lines in any of the gospels.  "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."  (Contrast Mark 9:30, "Whoever is not against us is for us.")  The text continues, "Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age of in the age to come." 

The unpardonable sin.  On more than one occasion people have come to visit ith be because they are terribly afraid and burdened with the fear (or the certainty) they they have committed the unpardonable sin and are doomed.  In each of these conversations, it became clear to me that the person was not a blasphemer against the Holy Spirit, but a troubled soul with irrational fears. 

I do not know what is meant by "blasphemy against the Spirit," but it is probably some form of rejection of God's presence and work -- to see love and to call it cursed.  For Matthew, this admonition probably also included a word against those who rejected the disciples sent in the Spirit as missionaries.

There are many other places in scripture where Jesus opens the boundaries of forgiveness and creates unfettered access to God's unbounded mercy.  It is unfortunate when some people become obsessive about the unpardonable sin.  But this passage from Matthew speaks a strong caution against our tendency to look at something that is love and call it evil.  It is a reminder to be open to the work of the Spirit which does new and good things that may not coincide with our conventional expectations.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:26 AM, Blogger Seoc Dughlas said...

Father Lowell, I have always heard that there were quite a few letters that tradition holds Paul as the author, but only 7 or 8 of those, Paul actually wrote.

Would you say that Paul wrote Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Phillipians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon? I'm not so sure about Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. Most scholars do seem to think that all the Pastorals and Hebrews are most certainly not from Paul. Would you agree? You know, it sure would be nice if I was more familiar with the kione Greek, so I could see what all the fuss is about.

Oh yes, by the way, I'm of the understanding that if ANYONE is concerned over the blasphemy of the Spirit, they need not be. The mere fact that they are worried proves that they have not committed it (at least, yet). The reasoning goes something like this... if something is truly unpardonable, then the Spirit would refuse to work with someone, so the conscience wouldn't be pricked. If someone's conscience is active, i.e. they fear they committed the big unpardonable sin; the conscience is being plucked, this means that the Spirit is working on them, therefore they have committed no such sin.

Regardless, I do understand why some are really worried about this... at one time, I *knew* that I committed such an atrocious act! When I found out that this wasn't the case, that I had not done such a silly thing, you wouldn't believe the relief I was going through. So if someone's conscience is bothering them, that is a sign that they have not committed that particular sin and they are safe from it. Have a wonderful day, Father Lowell.

Gras agus sith oirbh
(Grace and peace on you),
Seoc Dughlas

At 7:52 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

I like your reasoning, Jack. The fact that our conscience is alive is evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in us. Some people, I think, can become irrational in their scrupulosity and guilt. That doesn't seem like the Holy Spirit to me.

Your list of attribution of the Pauline corpus seems to reflect current scholarly opinion. I think people have fun debating these things. I'm always open to learning a new interpretation. When I was in seminary, consensus said that Job was a composite work. Since then, some compelling scholarship suggests that it may be of one piece. There's always something to learn.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Seoc Dughlas said...

Yes, Father. I completely concur on the irrationality some people have on guilt. There are times in which I'm still crippled by the effects of guilt and shame. Fortunately for me, I've am moved by the Grace of God, as the Holy Spirit, inside me, reminds me continously to "take it easy. We all can afford to learn from our mistakes and move on, being better and stronger for it."

I don't think the Holy Spirit plays guilt trips. It's been my experience that if anything, the Holy Spirit would like for us to go beyond all that.

Thanks for listening...



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