timothy & titus: within you and outside you

(cyprian)

I think it’s very instructive andtim & tit no accident that the day after we celebrate the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul we celebrate the feast of two of his disciples, Timothy and Titus. Both of them accompanied Paul on some of his apostolic journeys, preached the gospel and mediated some disputes for him; both of them are remembered for the pastoral letters that Saint Paul wrote to them; both of them are remembered as bishops, obviously some of the first bishops in the church. Why it’s instructive that we celebrate them the day after we celebrate Paul is that for Paul it was always about the Body, the whole Body of Christ. Before his conversion, remember, Paul was persecuting the members of this new sect. When he has his encounter with the risen Christ outside of Damascus, Jesus doesn’t say to him “Why are you persecuting my followers?” He says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. This is my body; they are my body. And so the great writings about the body especially in the letters to the Corinthians––this is not just a metaphor for Paul. He really does have an experience of all the members as one Body. And so right after his own feast day, we celebrate two of his famous disciples.

Raniero preached beautifully on the Feast of the Conversion of Paul about Paul’s three years in Arabia when he does what we like to call his “inner work,” which Raniero said was like the inner work of the monk, the inner work of the contemplative, ‘til that outer experience of meeting the risen Christ on the road becomes a living inner reality in his life. But that still wasn’t the end of the story; in some way that was the beginning.

What I was struck by in the gospel reading that we heard for the feast (Lk 10:1-9) was that when Jesus sent the seventy out to proclaim, they were always sent out in pairs. That inner experience with Jesus immediately becomes relationship, like Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus. And Jesus tells them, ‘And say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”’ The Spanish scripture scholar Jose Pagolà thinks that those words have not always been understood well. He doesn’t think we shouldn’t translate them the way we monks and certainly the eastern fathers liked to translate them, which is ‘The reign of God is within you.’ Somehow just “within” is not enough. The Greek expression entos hymin can mean “within you” but modern researchers now generally translate it as ‘the kingdom of God is among you’ or ‘has come near to you.’ If we ever can truly understand the mind of Jesus, Pagolà says that for Jesus the kingdom of God was a transformation that involved the whole life of people more than being an intimate spiritual reality, and there’s a danger that we might reduce the reign of God to only “something private and spiritual that people feel inside them.” Rather Pagolà says Jesus was trying to convince his listeners that the coming of God was a humble yet effective liberating force that was “there in the midst of life, within the reach of anyone who accepted it with faith.” The reign of God is not a thing that we contain; it’s a liberating force that permeates all reality, as the great images Jesus uses teach us––like salt in the earth, like yeast in the dough.

To Jesus this was not a perverse world, hopelessly subjected to the power of evil while it waited for God’s final intervention, as the apocalyptic writings said. Along with the terrible destructive power of evil, people could already see the saving power of God, who was now bringing their life to its definitive liberation.[1]

Of course we don’t want to fall into the classic dilemma of either/or instead of both/and. I like the solution provided by the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, which has Jesus say instead, ‘The kingdom of God is within you and outside you.’ I think that’s it. The reign of God is a force that permeates all reality, inside us and outside us, like salt in the earth, like yeast in the dough.

Just as silence and solitude are not ends in and of themselves but means toward greater love for God and neighbor, so the experience of the indwelling presence of God is not an end––it’s the beginning of real life in Christ. Acceptance of the reign of God begins within a person in the form of faith in Jesus, but it is realized in the life of a people wherever evil is overcome by God’s saving justice, for instance. It’s realized when the poor are fed, when the naked are clothed, when captives are set free. One of the sad divorces in our modern times is the divorce between private spirituality and social justice for instance. That can’t be for the follower of Jesus. Ronald Rolheiser points out that in the Christian scriptures “one out of every ten lines deals directly with the physically poor and the call from God for us to respond to them. In the gospel of Luke, that becomes every sixth line, and in the epistle of James, that communion is there, in one form or another, every fifth line.”[2] There is no Christian spirituality without that communion.

The reign of God is realized in the life of people when they build community-koinonia. The reign of God may begin within a person––and the eastern fathers would have us believe that the kingdom of God happens whenever the Holy Spirit rules over our faculties––but it still has to be realized in a transformed life, in love, joy and peace. It is realized when there is patience, kindness, generosity. (You’ll recognize these as Paul’s fruits of the Spirit in Galatians.[3]) The proof that it is being realized is faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And these are none of them virtues that can be learned, exhibited, manifested and tested except in community, or at least in relationship. There is simply no Christian spirituality without communion. Of course that is what the Eucharistic Table signifies, not just union with God, but union with one another, too, in the one bread, and the one cup.

The kingdom has come near us, within us and outside us. Sometimes what is outside seeps in, like the vision of Jesus that becomes an inner experience of the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ in Saint Paul. But the inner experience must always ooze out of us too, as the love of God that is poured into our hearts pours back out like a stream of life-giving water, making glad the city of God.

The kingdom of God is within us and outside us… near us and among us.

[1] Pagolà, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, 105.

[2] The Holy Longing, 64.

[3] Gal 5:22-23.

Share Button

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *