Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Encourage and Build Up
The community of the Thessalonians, who received the earliest letters from St. Paul, were in crisis. Paul’s reply tells us somethings about them, about his gospel and about us.
Briefly, the crisis St. Paul called their affliction. Jesus had come, and risen Jesus would return. The Thessalonians found it difficult to live in the interval between Jesus of Nazareth and risen Jesus’ return. They interpreted nearly every experience as an upheaval indicating risen Jesus’ return. To that St. Paul addressed himself.
Because they spoke in “capital letters,” Paul wrote in capital-letter--apocalyptic-- language in reply to them. Jesus used that kind of language in proclaiming the kingdom in deed and word. Healing people by command, as we heard in the gospel, revealed the kingdom dramatically. Words used to proclaim it became standard.
When people are saying, “Peace and security,” then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.These were standard expressions used to describe the kingdom of God because human speech cannot capture it. The problem was the Thessalonians, who knew persecution and the death of some of them, saw everything as a sudden disaster. They watched obsessively for a thief more than for the Lord already present among them.
So Paul’s 3-letter word introducing his encouragement to them is important: But. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. They were to watch, but watchfulness for St. Paul meant to be alert to one another according to the holiness of God, which Jesus had revealed.
We, too, are to be watchful in the same way: to live together with [risen] Jesus. ...[and to] encourage one another and build one another up. For people with no blood ties, like the Thessalonians and us, that means renewing each day our commitment to Jesus and to one another. If we don’t, we sleep dead to the world, to one another and to Jesus, whom we both await and in whom we live this very moment.
NASA of the Crab Nebula, seen from the Hubble Telescope, is in the public domain.