Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Time to set the sails
For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.2Tm 4,6-8,16-18
While writing this letter to Timothy, Paul is in Rome and is a little older than sixty. The words in today’s reading may sound like a spiritual legacy, however they are not motivated by old age, but by the fact that Paul was put to trial, which will end up with a death sentence. Nevertheless, he did not defend himself at the court, but he used that opportunity as the last one to proclaim Christ’s Gospel once again: “The Lord stood by my and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it”. There are no traces of sadness in his voice even if he has to leave his earthly life, but there is the joy of the athlete who is aware that he has “competed well… finished the race… kept the faith”. Paul compares his life to a continuous sacrifice which is going to be completed with his blood spilling, “poured like a libation” as the victims meant for the holocaust. In this reading, you get involved by his peace at heart, coming from the awareness that he has “competed well” in his life, on the right side. There is in fact always the risk to fight on the wrong side, that is to pursue meaningless goals. But, most of all, you can sense Paul’s joy for keeping his faith, because this is the biggest risk we all run while fighting our life battle: losing the faith. On the contrary, Paul expects the “crown of righteousness” for keeping the faith, the same way athletes get a laurel crown when they win their races. The last years lived in faith, after a life spent on the accomplishment of God’s plan, may be extremely beautiful. The Latin writer Plutarch describes this sensation with these words: “It is sweet to get old with an honest soul, as in the company of a good friend”. This has always been a thought rich in images: the peace of the sunset in my Tuscany, when the sun sets behind the hills and goes to rest; or coming back home on a winter evening, tired with hard working, when Anna Maria waits for me with a good steaming dinner.