Life is one thing after another. It is increased taxes, or a son who isn’t learning at school, or a daughter who is learning too much outside of school, or the threat of downsizing, or the reality of downsizing, or a drop in the market, or the wrong number on the blood profile, or the need to plan more in order to get what you want, or the need to develop another plan after you don’t get what you want. We continually face physical, mental, and social challenges.
As if the physical, mental and social challenges which are leveled against us by the world were not enough, those who follow Jesus Christ must also deal with spiritual and moral challenges. While the world judges our success by how we deal with challenges in the market place, God judges us by our ability to cling to the values of the Gospel which asks us to keep the commandments and to love our neighbor, even those who consider themselves our enemies.
Although they are not explicitly mentioned, it is clear from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy that he was facing his share of difficulties. Timothy received two letters written by St. Paul or a secretary while Paul was imprisoned in Rome and awaiting execution for his faith. Timothy had been a companion of Paul in his missionary journeys to the Gentiles. In the first letter to Timothy, we learn that he was appointed as the bishop of the community of which Paul had founded in Ephesus. Now that his mentor is imprisoned, he finds himself facing the struggles of holding together the Christian community which is beginning to fray at the edges. As the apostles and disciples of Jesus were being martyred one by one, the community had begun to wonder if perhaps they had been misled. There were those who were beginning to teach a false Gospel and used the demise of the apostles as proof that they had been duped by these teachings.
Paul’s response to Timothy is a strong statement of faith and a call to holiness. If God had asked his own Son to die because of his teachings, then Jesus’ disciples could hardly expect being treated differently. So he writes to Timothy: “Bear your share of the suffering for the Gospel.” What follows is a brief summary of the Gospel. We are not saved by our own deeds. We are saved by the graces won for us by Jesus, graces that were present in Jesus from the beginning of time. Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to those who place their faith in the Gospel.
According to tradition, Timothy never flagged in his faith despite the difficulties he encountered during his time as bishop of Ephesus. In 97 A.D., he was beaten and stoned to death by an angry mob while he was preaching the Gospel on the streets of Ephesus.
Life is difficult. In the first reading we hear of God’s call to Abram. He is told to leave his homeland and to lead his people to a new land of promise. This would have gone against everything that these people held dear. Leaving one’s homeland and one’s family was effectively cutting one’s self off from his history, his present, and his future. However, Abram stepped up to the challenge.
Life is a test. After telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a mountain and is transfigured before them. This is a taste of what was promised to those who faced the challenges of following Jesus. This happened six days after Jesus had told them they must carry their crosses and follow him, that they must lose their lives in order to hold on to them.
Life is difficult; Life is a test. The Gospel stands as a beacon to those who struggle with the challenges that life throws at us. Bear your share of the hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. One day you too will be transfigured. It is a promise that God has made and that God will fulfill.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator