GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
And so in response to that request, Jesus gives the apostles a parable:
“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Okay, so, first thing here. Notice here that Jesus is using two images from the natural world to give this parable. The first image is that of a mustard seed, and the second is that of a sycamine tree—or a sycamore tree, or a mulberry tree, it’s translated in different ways. So let’s look at each of those in turn. The first image is that of a mustard seed. In the Greek, it’s synapi
. Proverbially, it was seen as the smallest of seeds. Now sometimes, modern readers get bent out of shape, because they’ll say, “Well actually, in point of fact, the mustard seed isn’t the smallest seed in all of creation.” Well, yeah, that’s true, but in Jewish proverbs or Jewish speech, it was just a kind of axiomatic thing to use as an image of something very, very, very small. That was the mustard seed. So it’s an image of their faith being very, very small, and yet very, very powerful.
And then the second element he uses here from the natural world, he says is: “If your faith were even the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the sycamine tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.” Okay, now there are two aspects of that that are worth highlighting here. First, the Greek word for sycamine or mulberry tree is sykaminos
. Some scholars have pointed out that the words here sound similar to one another in Greek. The mustard seeds, synapi
...the sycamine tree, sykaminos
...that maybe there’s an attempt at a kind of word play here that otherwise explains the strange juxtaposition of these two terms, the mustard seed and sycamine tree. In any case, we’re not sure exactly what kind of tree Jesus is referring to here. Many translations will say it’s a mulberry tree, in particular a black mulberry. Others will translate this as a sycamore tree, and you can hear the Greek word sykaminos
...sounds like the root of our English word sycamore tree. And we’re actually going to see a sycamore tree in Luke 19:4 with the famous story of Zaccheus, who climbs up into the sycamore tree.
In any case, when Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this sycamore tree, be uprooted,” he appears to be drawing on the ancient Jewish understanding of sycamore trees—or mustard trees, it’s true of either one—being a small tree with a very wide and deep root system. We actually know that this was the case from the Mishnah. The Mishnah is a collection of ancient Jewish traditions, and in one of the books of the Mishnah, it gives a law about where you can plant a sycamore tree. Listen to this. In Mishnah, tractrate Baba Bathra
2:11, it says:
A tree may not be grown within twenty-five cubits of a cistern, or within fifty cubits if it is a carob or a sycamore-tree…
So in other words, as you’re laying out a town, if there’s a cistern or a well, you shouldn’t plant a tree twenty-five feet from the well, because the roots will penetrate the well and damage the well. But if it’s a sycamore tree, you shouldn’t plant it, you need to push it even further. It needs to be at least fifty cubits, and a cubit is about a foot and a half—it’s about the size, the length from your elbow to your fingertips, about a foot and a half. It needs to be at least fifty cubits from the well, because that’s how far the root system of the sycamore tree will go.
Now, if you’ve ever tried to pull up a weed, like in your garden, that has a root system that goes out six feet—much less sixty feet—you know how difficult it is to pull a plant out of the ground...even a small plant, if it has a widespread root system. It’s basically impossible, in other words, to yank up a sycamore tree by the stump—or by the trunk—because the root system is so extensive. So Jesus is presuming his audience is familiar with that reality of what a sycamine tree is like, so he’s saying “even if your faith was as small as a mustard seed, you could say to the sycamine tree”—first point of impossibility—“be uprooted,” and it would. And the second point is “be planted in the sea, and it would obey you.” Now this is a great example of the parabolic twist, right? Jesus always has some element of his parables—or not always, but often—has some element of the parable that’s unexpected or it’s surprising. It’s not what you would think, and it doesn’t actually match life in the natural world. And as a rule, this would qualify. Nobody plants their sycamore trees in the ocean, right? You don’t plant trees in the ocean. They can’t grow there. And yet, what Jesus is saying is, even if your faith was as small as a mustard seed, you can take this sycamine tree, not only uproot it, but you could plant it in the ocean, and it would obey you.
Okay, now he’s got their attention, right? What is he trying to show them in this parable? He’s trying to show them that faith can do what is completely impossible. It’s completely impossible to speak to a sycamine tree, have it be uprooted, and be planted in the sea—just by the power of the word. And yet, Jesus is saying, if their faith was even as small as a mustard seed, they could do that. So the point is that faith can do supernatural things. Faith can do things that are technically impossible, but it accomplishes these things through the power of God. And that’s the basic point of the parable—a very short parable but very powerful parable.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...but it's extremely important in the history of the Church. Let me highlight a couple elements here. First, when Paul speaks about rekindling the gift of God that is within Timothy, the Greek word for gift there is charisma
, so we get the word charismatic from this. And we'll see Paul used this same term elsewhere to describe particular spiritual gifts that are given by God to individual members of the body of Christ. Now, in this context, the charisma
, the gift that is given to Timothy has been given through an earthly mediator, so to speak, through Paul himself, through the laying on of his hands.
Now, Paul doesn't tell us the exact context or content, the subjective content or the theological content, I should say, of the significance of him laying hands on Timothy. He doesn't describe exactly what this means, but if we go back and we look at Jewish scripture and what the laying on of hands meant in the Old Testament, we can gather some information, we can infer some things about the context in which Timothy would've had hands laid on him. So if you go back to the Old Testament, you'll see that there are several different contexts in which one person could lay hands on the head of another person in order to communicate some type of spiritual gift or spiritual blessing or some kind of commission. So for example, number one, the first context in which people would have hands laid on them was in the context of a blessing. So for example, in Genesis 48, whenever Israel lays hands on Ephraim and Manasseh to bless them, he's communicating a paternal blessing. So fathers, in other words, could lay hands on their children in order to just give them a general blessing, to ask the goodness of God to come down upon them.
A second context in which hands will be laid on someone was in the context of consecration or ordination. The don't use that language exactly of ordination, but when the Levites, which were one tribe out of the 12, are set apart, they're consecrated for sacrificial worship, for liturgical service, it actually says that the people of Israel, the rest of the tribes laid their hands on the Levites in order to set them apart for this particular task to which God had called them. We also see laying on of hands as a symbol of sacrifice. So, the Levites themselves in that very same context in the book of Numbers 8, once they've had hands laid on them, they in turn lay hands on the heads of the animals that are going to be killed and offered in sacrifice on the altar. So you see, the act of laying on of hands can be a blessing as in a family context, but it can also be a kind of sacrificial consecration. The Levites are set apart or consecrated for worship. The animals are set apart or consecrated for sacrifice to be offered up to God.
Then there are contexts in which the laying on of hands describes a kind of commission, an imparting of spiritual authority or spiritual power from one leader to another so that that person can take up the mission of leadership that his predecessor had. The most famous example of this is from Numbers 27 when Moses lays hands on Joshua in order to consecrate him or set him apart or commission him as his successor, as the leader of the 12 tribes of Israel. So you have all these different symbolisms associated with the expression laying on of hands.
By the time you get to the early Jewish period, late Second Temple period, and then in the Early Rabbinic Literature, the 2nd, 3rd centuries AD, the rabbis used the phrase, laying on of hands, semikhah
, to actually describe consecration or ordination to the Rabbinate, to becoming a rabbi, to being an authoritative teacher of the Jewish people. So in context then, if we go back to our 2 Timothy 1, it seems quite clear here that Paul is not just blessing Timothy, right? He is setting Timothy apart to be a minister. He has ordained Timothy to be a leader in the early Church. And in fact, if we look at a parallel passage in the First Letter to Timothy, we can see the exact context of this. So, although 2 Timothy doesn't give us a lot of details as to exactly what Paul's referring to here, if you go back to 1 Timothy 4, Paul refers to the same event with these words, listen to what he says here: Actually, I'll back up to verse 13 because this is cool in context. 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul writes to Timothy in his first epistle:
Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you.
Now, there is some debate in Greek, or should I say, there's some debate about how to interpret the Greek text here because the elders referred to here is called the presbyterion. Some people interpret it as meaning when Timothy was ordained to be a presbyter, others interpret it as when he was ordained by the council of presbyters or the council of elders, or you could actually take it as both. He has hands laid on him by the council of elders so that he too might be commissioned, consecrated and, as we would say, ordained an elder in the church. I think the latter interpretation makes the best sense. If you look at all the uses of laying on of hands in the Old Testament, if you look at the parallels in the rabbis for describing it as the way a person is consecrated to become a authoritative teacher among the rabbis, and if you look at the context of Paul's description in 1 Timothy 4:13-14, it seems really clear that what's happening here is that Timothy is having hands laid on him by other elders, and Paul among them, in order for him to be consecrated and ordained to be an elder himself in the church, a presbyter
in Greek, who has the authority to do what? To publicly read scripture, to preach the scriptures and to teach others. So he is being given teaching authority as a presbyter in the early church. So even though Paul himself doesn't use the language of ordination, this is in effect the reality, what we would describe as Timothy's ordination to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He's being inducted into the order of the presbyterate, or to use our language today, he's being ordained a priest.
Now, this is a fascinating window into the early church because we don't get a lot of insight into exactly how leaders were appointed, consecrated or ordained in the early church apart from these pastoral epistles. And in the early stages, especially while the apostles were still alive, the various offices in the early Church are still developing. You can actually see this really clearly in the book of Acts when the Apostles are preaching and teaching and they're being just inundated with all of these duties of serving at tables. You have conflict between the widows of the Hebrews and the Hellenists, and who's getting enough charitable gifts of food and clothing that they might need in order to sustain them. And so the Apostles choose these seven men in order to serve those acts of charity as basically the first deacons, so that they can focus on preaching the word of God, which is their principle apostolic commission. So you see the development of these early offices, and in Paul's letters, again, while apostles are still alive, we see the first glimpses of the development of the presbyterate, of a group of elders who are ordained in this case, he's ordained by the Apostle Paul, as well as other elders, and consecrated to serve in the same way that Paul himself serves, publicly to read scripture, to preach the gospel, and to teach the people. That's who Timothy is. That's why these letters are called the Pastoral Epistles. You could call them the Presbyteral Epistles in a certain sense because Timothy and Titus appear to be young presbyters, young elders in the early Church.
And real quick, by the way, as a side note, this category, presbyter, eventually that's going to be the Greek word that leads to development of the English word, priest. However, it is important to note that we usually translate a different Greek word as priest in the New Testament. The normal Greek word translated as priest is hiereus
. It means somebody who's set apart. It's not the exact same as holy, but it's one who's been consecrated to do holy things or consecrated to holy activities. The hiereus
is the priest. So presbyter is a little bit closer to the word used for an old man or an elder, a leader in the church. And to this day, although we customarily refer to priests with the word priest, the actual Latin word that gets used to describe the second tier of the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Orders is, in fact, presbyters, or you're ordained to the presbyterate. So, that biblical language that's applied to Timothy here, and used by Paul, is still used to this day in official Latin documents to describe the priesthood of the Catholic Church.
Now, with all that in mind then, let's go back... For full access subscribe here >