Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Divine Go-Between: A Reflection on 1 Timothy 2:1-8

(The following is 1 Timothy 2:1-8, and then a reflection that I gave on that reading a few years back. Hope you enjoy.)

First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. This was the testimony 2 at the proper time. For this I was appointed preacher and apostle (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying), teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

Folks, before we begin our reflection on the reading, there’s something you should know about me: I love language. I love the way that a word can hold an ocean of meaning in a syllable or two. I love how two words like “silver” and “argent” can have the same referent, but have a totally different feel and weight to them—no one would say we have an argent Chevy Caravan out in the parking lot. I like to play with words like toys, and reverence them as symbols that can effect grace in people’s lives, like “I absolve you,” or “This is my body.” Words are neat. All of that is to let you know why I’m going to focus so much on two words from this passage. I’ll magnify them, pull them apart, and glue them back together.

Those two words are “intercede” and “mediator”. Now, intercession itself is not in here, but it’s a good word to encapsulate the other words used for what Paul asks us to do: supplication, prayer, petition. Intercede, from the Latin intercedere, “to go between”: that’s what prayer for someone else is essentially doing, right? We act as a go-between, bringing the concerns of one party to another party, between our fellows and God. Paul says that we are to intercede for others, and this will contribute to their salvation. Paul juxtaposes this call to intercede with God’s salvific will, suggesting that our prayers will have an effect on the salvation of others. So, our intercession is important.

Then we have this other word, “mediator.” Paul says that Christ is “the one mediator” between God and humanity, the one given “as ransom for all.” But wait—if Christ is the one mediator, the one standing in the middle, in medio, of God and humanity, and we’re also going between God and humanity, aren’t we going to collide with each other? Get in each other’s way? If Christ is the one mediator whose work alone ransomed us, how is it that we can make intercession that contributes to the salvation of others? Isn’t there a contradiction here? A redundancy?

Nope. On the contrary, one depends on the other. It is because Christ stands in the middle that we can go between. It is because Christ is mediator that we can intercede. Before Christ’s saving sacrifice on the Cross, the chasm of sin between God and humanity was infinite. Christ has reconciled the two, brought them together, enabling us to go between. Christ can fill that gap between the divine and the human because he is a citizen of both those countries, because he has stretched out his arms between Heaven and Earth and done the biggest butterfly press in history to bring them together. It is because Christ is in the middle (in medio) that we can go between (intercedere). It is because Christ is the mediator that we can intercede for one another. He is the greatest of bridge-makers, the pontifex maximus.

Now before we simply say, “Thanks for the bridge, Jesus!” like a company of ungrateful infantry to a company of engineers and go to fight the battle on our own, let’s remember one other thing: Christ doesn’t only give us the bridge for our prayer, he gives us the prayer as well. The only reason we can even find this bridge is because of Christ who has led us there. And Christ has led us there, not externally, bribing us with a carrot or threatening us with a stick, but internally, tugging at our restless heart strings, conforming our will to his own, preparing a home for himself inside of us through the outpouring of his grace, until we say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” And it is the Spirit of Christ who prays in us, “with sighs too deep for words.” Christ not only builds the bridge, he gives us the strength to cross it, and the inspiration for the message we carry.

Now before we say, “Great, just carry me across, Jesus, let me know when we get there; I’ll be asleep in the back seat,” we must remember that we have our own responsibilities, too. God gives us the desire to pray, but we compose the prayer; it’s like Lennon and McCartney: no matter who does the majority of the work in a given instance, it’s always credited to both. God builds the bridge, and gives us the strength and desire to cross it, but we must choose to go. The Holy Cross Constitutions describe this relationship well: “Our mission is the Lord’s, and so is the strength for it.” And Christ’s mission is to save souls, to bring humanity back into friendship with God. So when I pray for my friend who has fallen away from the Church, or for my relative whose faith has been shaken, I am participating in the salvific work of Christ, because it’s Christ who lives in me, and prays in me, and gives me the strength to lift my brother or sister onto my shoulders and help them along the way. We do this first and foremost by prayer, supplication, intercession. Let us pray for one another that we may persevere. Let us intercede with our one mediator, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

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