Yesterday we began to read from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians. More often than not, St. Paul begins his letters with a statement of gratitude and words of encouragement. As we continue to read from that letter today, we learn a little of why St. Paul thought a second letter was necessary.
It is important to remember that the First Letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest writing to appear in the Christian Scriptures. Although it is usually listed as thirteenth book of the New Testament, it actually predates all the other writings. Because it is an early letter, it bears some of the marks of the thinking of the early Christian community. In particular, St. Paul states rather emphatically that he expects to be around when Jesus returns.
The Second Letter to the Thessalonians was written much later in St. Paul’s career as a missionary preacher. He has gone through a great deal, both positive and negative experiences. He has been encouraged by how well the Gospel is being received by the Gentiles. At the same time, he has been opposed by certain groups in the Christian community and has suffered at their hands. Today, St. Paul states that he doesn’t want the Thessalonians to be misled by some who are preaching a message contrary to the Gospel. He also says something that tells us that he realizes that he may have been mistaken in the earlier letter: “We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a ‘spirit,’ or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand. Let no one deceive you in any way” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a).
Sadly, the efforts that were made to pull people away from the preaching of St. Paul and the other apostles has been a constant part of our Christian history. Our human pride and our wish to be regarded as someone who is important sometimes gets in the way of the truth of the Gospel. As a huge fan of the old British Comedy featuring the irrepressible Hyacinth Bucket, I am constantly on guard against thinking that I am “someone important” or that I am better than. It is Jesus who is the only one who is important and the Gospel which is the only thing that truly matters. To borrow words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, I have come to regard everything else as “so much rubbish” in the light of the Gospel and the importance of God’s Word in my life.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator