"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost." (1 Tim 1:15)
Paul’s first letter to Timothy stuns us. Although some question Paul’s authorship, others find a great similarity in this so called pastoral epistle and Paul’s earlier letters. They also suggest that Paul would have written his letters to Timothy in his old age, a speculation that, as I grow older, attracts me to read it carefully.
Paul asserts that he is foremost among sinners. Don’t we all feel that at times? And this sentiment might be overwhelmingly depressing, if it opened the letter, but just a few verses before writing this, Paul reminds Timothy, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” It is gratitude for the mercy of God that compels Paul to write without fear about the errors in Ephesus where Timothy is ministering. While Paul’s words are hard, they are not judgmental. Rather, he identifies with the errors he wants Timothy to correct and assures him that God’s grace will be sufficient for the task.
Mercy is a wonderful word, especially when we look at its Latin equivalent, misericordia. Misericordia means heart sorrow. God’s heart is mercifully, full of sorrow for us, and full of a desire to understand and help us. Made in God’s image we need to have “heart sorrow” for those who have hurt us, hurt our families, or our country. Only mercy, not vengeance, will convince them that there is a path to healing and hope for all those who turn to God with open spirits.
If we can acknowledge that, in fact, we are great sinners because we have, like Paul, ignorantly failed to be grateful for all the gifts of life and faith we have received, then we will have no fear. God's mercy is waiting for us, yearning for us, anxious to heal us.