In today’s scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, the Lord Jesus calls forth help for the Church in the person of Timothy. Timothy would accompany St. Paul on his missionary adventures and would become a missionary himself. The importance of today’s scripture for us is that it illuminates the truth of what it means for us to be what Pope Francis calls missionary disciples.
Timothy is a Greek, a person that the Israelites called a Gentile. That the new Israel, the Church, will include both Israelites and Gentiles is one of the great revelations of the Lord Jesus. This revelation proved to be a source of contention and controversy, and in order for Timothy to be effective in his missionary work to both Israelites and Gentiles, Paul asks that Timothy accept ritual circumcision and Timothy agrees.
Timothy endures something very painful for the sake of his mission, something that was not necessary for his salvation, but helpful for the sake of his mission.
Timothy’s circumcision, his sacrifice, signals something important to us about being a disciple and being a missionary. One cannot be Christ’s disciple, and one certainly cannot be a missionary, without accepting that one will have to at times suffer, make sacrifices, and endure discomfort. At times the demands of the mission will necessitate that a missionary accept less for themselves and deal with circumstances that are not emotionally satisfying or physically comfortable.
All this is accepted out of love for Christ and for his Church. There is no love in this world without sacrifice, and through our sacrifices for the sake of love, we demonstrate the depth of love. If you discover that the loves of your life demand sacrifice, it might be signaling to you that your love is real and true.
One of the challenges that the Church faces in our culture is that the identity and mission of the Church has been construed (distorted) into what Pope Francis calls an “NGO”. By this, the Holy Father means that people have come to expect that the Church be a “non-governmental organization”- a corporate provider of faith based services, services that to be delivered at little or no cost, and with little or no demand for those who receive them. Members of the Church are the primary recipients of these services and receiving these services become what being a member of the Church is all about.
As we matriculate through Church affiliated institutions we expect to receive the services that we pay for and that meet our needs. This becomes what being a member of the Church is all about.
In the NGO model, the Church provides for the needs of contributing members on their terms and these services are to be delivered with efficiency and in ways that diminish personal commitment and enhance consumer satisfaction.
This all might sound like a great strategy, but does any of that require missionary disciples who out of love for Christ and his Church are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of their love? The love that Christ demands of us is not like worldly love that calculates value through a cost benefit analysis or measures value through personal gain. The love of God in Christ gives itself away in acts of personal sacrifice.
An NGO Church is tempting because it minimizes personal risk and defers responsibility to others for the tasks we find difficult. There is little if any expectation of sacrifice. But where there is no sacrifice there is also no love.
Timothy was willing to endure a rather uncomfortable sacrifice out of love for Christ and for the sake of the Church’s mission. What about us?