Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Endings, and everything after

Morning Prayer. 2 Timothy 4:9-22.

I love the humanity of Paul’s final, personal instructions to Timothy, and what they reveal about Paul and the collaborative nature of his ministry.

He asks Timothy to come to him, because he is nearing the end of his life, and feels largely alone.

I wonder whether we view Demas too harshly: Paul tells us that Demas, in love with this age, has deserted him and gone to Thessalonica; and this is generally understood as a falling-away from ministry (or even faith in Jesus). But the context is that Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia; and that at Paul’s first defence, no one came to his support, but all deserted him—for which he asks that it not be counted against them. Might it not be that Paul is saying that, in contrast to his own acceptance that he is at the end of this life, Demas is not yet ready to depart this life—a decision Paul himself had earlier wrestled with and at that time concluded he still had reason to live on—and has gone to continue his own ministry, among the saints at Thessalonica?

Luke, the author of Luke-Acts, is with Paul. Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark, who was estranged from Paul at an earlier time, but they appear to have been reconciled, as Paul now describes him as a useful partner in ministry. Among the other movements going on, Paul has sent Tychicus to Ephesus, carrying his letter to the church there. Along with bringing Mark, he asks Timothy to bring his cloak, left behind with Carpus at Troas, as winter approaches; and his books and parchments to him in prison. A practical item, and his most precious belongings. And he warns Timothy to beware Alexander (again, he does not speak against Demas as he does against Alexander).

Paul asks Timothy, before he sets off, to greet Prisca and Aquila—that couple in ministry together, with Aquila most often taking a supporting role to his wife—and the run-away-and-returned slave Onesiphorus. He also mentions Erastus, whose public employment kept him in Corinth; and Trophimus who Paul had to leave in Miletus due to illness. And to his own greetings, Paul adds those of Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, along with those of a wider community, who must have had contact with him in prison. So, he is not entirely alone; just longing to see a dear friend—indeed, like a son to him—one last time.

At the heart of this season, approaching death, Paul is aware of the Lord giving him strength and ‘rescuing’ him, to the glory of God.

These are incredible, encouraging verses, that resonate with the experience of facing death as a person held in a fluid network of highly-mobile relationships.

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