As a pastor I read Paul’s letters to Timothy often. Timothy was Paul’s protege of sorts. He was young and seems to have been a courageous man. According to christian tradition at the age of 80 Timothy was dragged through the streets and stoned to death for trying to disrupt a religious procession for the goddess Diana.
One day it occurred to me to read this letter from a different point of view. I’m reading it slowly imagining that Timothy is the pastor of the church I’m a part of in my city.
I imagine gathering with our missional community in our neighborhood. Timothy is there, week in and week out. Questions always come up about what it means to live as citizens of God’s kingdom here in this place. I listen to what he has to say when he chimes in. I see how he listens, how he handles the ideologies and frustrations of others; how he handles his own. It puzzles me how he gets fired up over some things while appearing disinterested in others. I don’t always agree with what he says. I don’t always see what he sees.
I imagine myself gathering with the church in our large gatherings on Sundays. As one people we share in the liturgy, hope to hear a word from God, and come to the Lord’s Table. But before the Eucharist I can see Timothy come before us, open the Scriptures, and speak. He invites us to imagine what it could look like if Jesus is King. He reminds us of things we know but have forgotten, or maybe dismissed. We are stirred. We are convicted. We are hopeful. At times I confess that the words he shares irritates me, sometimes confounds me and sometimes comforts me. The way he talks about what the Spirit could be up to out ahead of us both excites me and bothers me. Then he turns his attention to the Eucharistic Table. There he invites us to remember whose we are and who we are. Some Sundays what he says is resolved at the Table. Sometimes it creates tension. But at the Table it makes a little more sense and we find a way to move forward in light of it all because Jesus is Lord and we’re in this together. We can join His Spirit who is at work among us, between us and out ahead of us. We can love each other, our neighbors and our enemies. And we can trust God with the consequences because He loves us.
Timothy still says things that press in to my way of seeing the world. I ask him to meet. I share my concerns. He listens and tries to help me reason through it. Finally, he pulls out a letter the apostle Paul sent him some time ago. Paul believes the Spirit entrusted our church to him and him to our church. Timothy tells me he’s doing the best he can to stay faithful to what Paul told him God wants him to do. He admits he could be off or wrong, but he, like me, is trying to stay faithful to our confession of faith and to his calling as our pastor. He hands a section of the letter to me. This what it says:
“I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” ~2 Timothy 4:1-5
Reading Timothy this way is sobering.
No wonder Timothy was dragged through the streets and stoned to death.