Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (2 Timothy 3) transports me to the common room of Melrose Dorm my freshman year of college, where for a period of time several of my buddies and I would make our way after waking up mid-morning on Saturdays, to catch an episode of our favorite cheesy cartoon, the Adventures of Plastic Man. It came on after Super Friends, which we didn’t generally wake up for. The beginning intro to Plastic Man was worth the sounds of the alarm clock, no matter what kind of late night mischief we had engaged in the night before. In the intro scene, we see Plastic Man in the middle of capturing some hoodlums, when he realizes that he’s late for his wedding and he forms himself into a bow and arrow and shoots himself to the church just in time to say “I do.” Mr. and Mrs. Plastic Man head off to their honeymoon, and the next thing you know, a screaming baby’s mouth fills the screen, and a doctor is then seen bouncing little Baby Plas like a basketball while shaking Plastic Man’s hand and saying in a Groucho Marx voice, Congratulations, it’s a bouncing baby boy. It didn’t much matter what the particular plot was for the week’s episode, and what kind of forms and shapes Plastic Man had to morph into to catch the crooks, we got up every week just to hear that Groucho Marx line. Freshman guys. Go figure.
I don’t know if it was a Saturday morning or not when Paul penned this second epistle to his young friend Timothy (who might have been college freshman age), but something about the beginning of this third chapter sounds a bit cartoonish to me. The supernatural gift of plasticity in this passage doesn’t belong to the hero, though, but to the crooks. Paul reels off a list of despicable characteristics of these ne’er do well folks – lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, slanderous ungrateful, brutal, rash, treacherous, conceited – and then, he delivers the punch line: they have a form of godliness. These rash, money-loving and slandering folk are somehow able to pull off a form of being godly, maybe morphing themselves through ritual church attendance or the recitation of orthodox creeds and statements of faith. Paul gives one image of the plastic man-like elasticity they have; he says they are able to worm their way into homes, gaining the confidence of the gullible, who are swayed by all kinds of evil desires. At the top of Paul’s list of these evil desires was the love of money – it began his list of evil attributes, and he spent a good deal of his first letter to Timothy warning him about these desires for material gain. In that first letter he described what real gain involved – godliness with contentment.
Paul went on to tell Timothy that the Plastic Man of his day would have a form of godliness, but would deny its power, which for Paul meant the power of gracious love, as seen most clearly on the cross. It would be easy to think that it was only these despicable crooks Paul described who deny this power: the rash slanderers, the abusers, the boasters, the ungrateful greedy folk. In reality, though, we all are tempted to deny the power of compassion, the power of transforming love, the power of the cross, and trust instead on other powers. It might be an external power that worms its way into our heart – guns and bombs for our security, or concentrated wealth for our comfort, or social policies that shore up our rights us at the expense of others. Or it simply might be trust in our own cunning and cleverness or confidence in the rightness of our cause. Either way, when we are gullible enough to succumb to the allure of these powers, we are essentially denying the power of God, the transforming love manifested in Jesus. And when we wed our faith to any power other than the power of love, we are liable to give birth, as one of the prophets said, not to a bouncing baby boy, but to the wind. Not something Groucho Marx would congratulate.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.