Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s helpful — and challenging! — to reflect on the case of Timothy from the early Church.
In Acts 15, we’re told that the apostles met for what was, in effect, the first Church Council. After prayer and conversation, the “Council of Jerusalem,” led by the Holy Spirit, reached the conclusion that Gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised in order to become Christians.
But then, immediately afterwards, in Acts 16, we’re told that Timothy was circumcised in order to convey this message to the communities. How does that make sense?
Actually, it makes perfect sense. St. Paul knew that it had to be clear to everyone that Timothy wasn’t invested in the message because he gained something from it. What he did was solely for the good of others.
If you think about it, this was a very Christ-like feature of Timothy’s ministry. Jesus bore the cost of our salvation in His flesh. He didn’t benefit from that; we did. Timothy paid a price, in his flesh, to make his proclamation of the Good News more effective for others. He didn’t benefit from it; they did.
That raises a good question for us: Are we willing to do the same?
On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we fast and abstain from meat. On all the Fridays of Lent, we abstain from meat. On every Friday of the year, we’re called to perform some kind of penance. But we tend to think of those spiritual practices as a kind of self-help program. And on one level that’s fine — we all need improvement in our lives!
But what if we shifted our perspective: What if we followed the example of Timothy — and, ultimately, the example of Jesus — and undertook the disciplines of the spiritual life specifically for the benefit of others?
For example, we might fast or abstain on Fridays — not for our own discipline and benefit, but for the sake of those who hunger or those who serve the hungry. We might take up an hour of adoration at our church — not for our own benefit, but for the sake of a loved one who has fallen away from the faith. We might turn to prayer rather than music when we get into our car, or read the Bible for 30 minutes instead of watching the news at night — not because it will make us a better person (which it will!), but because the world needs to be in deeper touch with God.
Brothers and sisters, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to take some of the world’s pain upon ourselves, to bear that pain in our lives the way Timothy did, the way Jesus did. We can help shoulder the burden, not for our sake but for the sake of others.
So, among the many hurts in the world today, what has the attention of your heart in a particular way? And what’s some discipline that you can undertake, and make a regular part of your life, to lift that issue up to the Lord?