Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians

For the next five weeks, our second reading will come from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. As we listen to this letter, it might help to know some background information about it – who, when, where, how, why, and what.

Who wrote the letter to whom?

*St. Paul wrote the First Letter to the Thessalnians. This might seem obvious, but Pauline authorship has been doubted and even denied by some scholars who practice super-critical, rationalist analysis. Therefore, it merits restating that the Church's Tradition has always firmly maintained that Paul wrote this letter. His authorship has also been attested to by such early Church fathers as St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.

*St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica. Today called Salonika, Thessalonica was important city in Macedonia, a busy port on the Aegean Sea, and a trade center between Rome and its eastern provinces. It had a large Jewish population, a synagogue, and a good number of converts to Christianity.

When did St. Paul write the letter?

*St. Paul wrote his First Letter to the Thessalonians in the winter of 50-51 A.D.

Where was St. Paul when he wrote?

*St. Paul was in Corinth at the time of composition.

How did the letter come to be to written?

*Paul had visited Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. He taught in the city's synagogue for three Sabbaths, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah. Although he successfully converted many Thessalonians to Christianity, some of the Jews resented him and his message. He was forced to flee the city without finishing his work of instructing the converts, who subsequently experienced severe persecution by the Jews.

Why did St. Paul write?

*Concerned about the Thessalonian converts, St. Paul sent his colleague Timothy to check on the situation. Timothy reported that the Thessalonians were keeping the faith even during persecution but did have some questions that were bothering them. Paul wrote to encourage the Thessalonians to stay strong in faith and love. He also continued his instructions in the faith and especially addressed their questions, which were primarily about life after death and Jesus' second coming (the Parousia).

What are the letter's primary themes?

*St. Paul stressed several themes in his letter: 1. the proclamation and reception of the Gospel with love through the power of the Holy Spirit; 2. St. Paul's gentle, pure, upright, and hardworking methods of evangelization; 3. an exhortation to love and holiness even during persecution; 4. a life of purity and self-control that is pleasing to God; 5. Jesus' second coming and the equality of status between those who have already died and those still living at the time of the Parousia; 6. watchfulness in faith, hope, and love; and 7. mutual encouragement in Christian living.

Sources: Antonio Fuentes' A Guide to the Bible and The Navarre Bible: Thessalonians and Pastoral Letters

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