Sunday, October 19, 2014

Truly Ancient History

Ignatius House
[Priests' Residence]
St. Matthias Parish
Lanham, MD

St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians 1:1-5b

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians
in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
grace to you and peace.
We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers,
unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love
and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,
before our God and Father,
knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God,
how you were chosen.
For our gospel did not come to you in word alone,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

Can I have your complete attention?  I intend to bring to you information that may rock your boat.  Surely it may make you question my scriptural training.  My purpose is to stop your thinking that the four gospels were the earliest writings of the New Testament.  Ready?  Most scripture gurus believe Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians contains the first words ever written for the New Testament.  If you were to try to paint the New Testament as a building, this letter, these words of this Pauline letter would be the foundation course of the entire New Testament.  These same scholars estimate that Paul wrote this letter in 50 AD … several years before the earliest of the gospels and earlier than Paul’s other letters.
Grace to you and peace to you.
These words became St. Paul’s signature.  He starts almost every letter with these words of greetings.  Paul believed his mission was to expand Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, joining together both Jewish people and Greeks into a single Church.  So, here is the very first use of this oft-heard greeting. It was for St. Paul his way of bringing Jews and Greeks and their religious backgrounds together to mutual respect and acceptance of each other.  Paul speaks of the need for endurance in hope.
Faith … Hope … Love
Hopefully you recognize this trilogy of virtues as characteristics of the Christian Church.  In this letter Paul draws attention to hope but does not forget to bring to mind the other two gifts.

For Paul faith saves us and leads us to work.  Love is a genuine labor.  It does not come easily for most of us, true love that is.  Love demands so much from all of us if we are honest about our relationships with others.  This virtue of hope is much more than lackadaisical, easy come, easy go wishful thinking.  It is important to recognize that hope holds us.  It is not us who hold hope!  Paul wants all followers of Jesus to realize that hope is more than believing things will get better.  Hope is being centered in Jesus Christ himself.
You Were Chosen

Paul refers to his fellow Christians as “chosen ones, the elect of God.  It was this chosen status.  Chosen for what?, you might ask.  Well, it is rather simple but more often than not forgotten.  We are chosen to be conveyors of God’s graces.  The graces we do recognize as what we are receiving are not for us to hold tight for ourselves but to pass them on through us to entire community.

Oremus pro invicem!

Fr. Milt