By Jane Williams
A Reading from 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20
13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. 14For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
17 As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you — in person, not in heart — we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. 18For we wanted to come to you — certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again — but Satan blocked our way. 19For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20Yes, you are our glory and joy!
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is addressed to the whole community of Christians there, and must have been read aloud as they gathered together, probably in someone’s home. The audience would have been an unusual group of people to find congregating together — rich and poor, women and men, literate and illiterate, slaves and free people. Paul’s joy and praise for them must have been part of the glue that held them together and enabled them to continue to see themselves as brothers and sisters, despite all the pressures on them to go back to their previous social divides.
Paul reminds them that they are not the only community attempting to live out the gospel in these startlingly new and almost transgressive patterns of interaction. He has already told them that they are an example to be imitated by others across the region, but he now reminds them that they had examples to follow, in the churches in Judea. There is a kind of beneficent, non-competitive relay going on here, as churches “catch” the gospel from each other, and learn how to live it out.
Having previously seen himself as mother and father to the Thessalonians, here Paul acknowledges that this, too, is not one-way. Without them, he feels “orphaned,” so deep is his dependence upon them.
In the midst of this lyrical thanksgiving, it is shocking to read the diatribe against “the Jews,” the kind of language that has been the source of terrible, unforgiveable anti-semitism in the Christian church, past and present. Paul is almost certainly talking about “the locals,” rather than the whole Jewish people; and from our perspective, where the power dynamic has changed so dramatically, we need to repent of how we, in our turn, have used power to persecute.
Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St. Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Seychelles (Indian Ocean), the Most Rev. James Richard Wong Yin Song
Diocese of Eastern Oregon, the Rt. Rev. Patrick Bell
Diocese of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins