Grace to you!
A brief background information on Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 3:7-13, a letter he wrote while in Corinth, could facilitate engagement with our spiritual reflection today.
Paul was in Corinth for a year and a half. His experience ministering to the people was tough, challenging and somewhat depressing. He faced many trials and suffering. Acts of the Apostles, chapter 18:1-16, gives us some insight into what he faced in Corinth, causing him to decide to turn to the gentiles (Acts 18:6).
Reading the report of Paul’s mission in Corinth, it seems Paul’s limitations in dealing with the rigors of the Jewish and Greek intellectual audience was evident. It seems he struggled to find his identity and regain his self-confidence after being constantly put down and his intellectual skills tested. In addition to open confrontations, there were threats to his life too.
It’s like the experience of being assigned to work in a community where many people put you down and make a caricature of your faith and love logic. In terms of the Gospel, Paul learned one thing, “Preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23).
Logical reasoning, philosophy is good, but it isn’t the core of the good news. The message of the gospel, the good news we share, is a person, the Christ, who bears the mark of the crucifixion. It is he who compels, not our erudite oratory. Paul learned this lesson and I hope we all learn that too.
It wouldn’t be out of order to say that Paul felt like giving up on the people. The Lord, who is close to His people, wouldn’t let that happen. He ministers to Paul one night in a vision: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
God’s word of encouragement wouldn’t have been necessary were Paul not getting discouraged. This shows us that during moments of discouragement like Paul witnessed, the Lord ministers with the still voice, “I’m here. Do not be afraid.” He ministers the same word to you too.
In the meantime, the Church in Thessalonica heard of all that Paul and his companion Silas had to pass through. Paul fears the faith of the young Thessalonian church could be tested because of his situation. We know from experience that people generally gravitate towards success and run away from victims and those who suffer. In these moments, it takes the heart of Paul to inspire those around with the confident trust of the believer.
So, Paul sends Timothy to do two things for the young church. First is to establish them in the faith (1 Thes 3:2); and second is to exhort them so they may not be discouraged because of the affliction he and Silas face in Corinth (1 Thes 3:3).
When Timothy returned, he shared with Paul the great news that the young church was growing in faith and love (1 Thes 3:6). The news was refreshing. For this, Paul was full of joy (I Thes 3:7) because he sees it as a sign that the believers are maturing in their faith.
Their faith isn’t simply the first experience of conversion into Christ. There is a deepening which is seen when people can endure trying situations, knowing that good or bad, in pain or in suffering, God is in-charge. Redemptive Suffering, which is suffering born for the sake of Christ, is a blessing, a source of joy.
The faith and love witness of the Thessalonian church should speak to us too. When we suffer, do we grow in confident trust in the Lord Jesus? Do we hope our faith-life isn’t a discipleship of Jesus only for the Christmas and Easter joys?
Observe, too, that Paul’s joy, as we read from I Thessalonians 3:7-8, isn’t that the young church of Thessalonica has built beautiful worship places, but that they have grown in faith and love. This is a lesson for ordained ministers too. What is the source of our joy—spiritual or material blessings?
Praying that in all our sufferings, we grow and mature in faith and love. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 21 Ordinary Time A: 1 Thes 3:7-13; Mt 24:42-51]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.