Today we begin reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. As the first verses of this letter greet us today, it would do us well to pause to consider the importance of this letter for the Christian Scriptures. This letter represents the oldest or first of the New Testament writings. St. Paul's letters all predate the Gospels, and First Thessalonians is the first of Paul's letters.
These opening verses show us several factors about the early Christian community.
First, we can detect the enthusiasm or fervor for the faith that the community of Thessalonika had demonstrated as St. Paul tells them that he has heard of and witnessed the faith, hope and love for which this community is known. Paul's response to this witness is one of thanksgiving and intercessory prayer.
Secondly, we hear the primitive kerygma of the Gospel as St. Paul asserts that the Gospel he preaches is not his own, but rather the Word of God which he has received from the Holy Spirit, a Gospel that proclaims the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We need to remember that while we rather instinctively think of Jesus in these terms, the early Christian community struggled with the notion that God would ask this of his Son. Dying on the cross at the hands of the Romans would have been the most shameful death that these people could have imagined. However, faith in the Resurrection asserts that true honor comes from God, not from human society.
As we continue to read, we will also note that St. Paul is convinced of the early return of Jesus. As his writing continue, he will gradually come to realize that he will die before that happens in direct contradiction to the way he writes in this letter.
For those of us who struggle with chronic illness and or disability, these points form a firm foundation for us on which to build. First, we too must demonstrate the power of faith, of hope and of charity in our lives. Second, we must unite our sufferings with those of Jesus as we strive to enter the narrow gate through which we will enter into God's realm. Finally, with St. Paul we wait the day when we will shed this mortal flesh for a glorified body free of all illness, pain and disability.