A common image runs through the Gospel readings for the fifth Sunday of Great Lent: the Sunday of the Judge. Two stories show Jesus talking about the end of the world, the coming of God’s kingdom, and the judgment of all mankind.
In one parable, our Lord tells the story of a widow who would not cease calling on a judge for justice—and we are meant to think about our own prayers to heaven. In a second parable, a Pharisee and a publican pray in the Temple, displaying very different attitudes towards God.
Christ leads us to see that as human beings, every day, we stand before God. Indeed, one day, at the coming of God’s kingdom, we will stand before Him as our judge. And so we must ask ourselves: “How should we stand before God? How should we prepare to show ourselves to Him?”
This is how St. Paul answered that question:
“Study to show yourself to God as one approved: a workman who has no need to be ashamed, because he rightly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
St. Paul wrote these words to his pupil Timothy—and what a vivid image he presents of the Christian life!
It is not a game, the apostle warns us, this calling to the profession of Christianity. It requires effort. “Study to show yourself to God,” is his advice. Be determined and diligent, so you can show yourself to God “as one approved.”
But, what does it mean to be “approved” before God?
Becoming a “Master”
As he does so often, St. Paul answers that question with a very down-to-earth example. Think of a workman, he says: a carpenter or stone-carver. What would it mean to call such a workman “approved”? He would be a person who had learned his profession. A person confident in his abilities. One “who has no need to be ashamed,” as St. Paul puts it.
And he would be a person who knew how to correctly handle the tools of his trade. That’s important for two reasons. First, because the expert use of special tools is the mark of a master. But second, because the tools themselves can be dangerous. In the wrong hands—in poorly-trained hands—they are a hazard both to the user and to those around him.
What then are the Christian’s tools?
Paul’s answer is that the Christian is a workman who “rightly handles the word of truth.”
And what is that word of truth? Surely it is the Good News of Jesus Christ: his incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection; his promise of eternal life to all who follow him. “Rightly handling the word of truth” is not a job we can simply walk into, without any preparation. It’s not what we call today “unskilled labor.” It requires some study on our part.
And just as importantly, in the wrong hands even that precious word of truth can be a dangerous tool. We hardly need to elaborate on the point; but we are all aware that religious teachings can be placed in the service of foolish or destructive ends. And no religion, not even the Christian religion, is immune to this.
Prepared for God
Christians are called to be masters of their profession: experienced; confident in their ability; skilled in the proper handling of the tools they have been given.
Paul’s point is not that this is the way to obtain God’s approval, because such approval can never be “earned”: it is the free gift of a loving God, the fruit of the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.
Rather, his point is that if you are to be a Christian, then this is the kind of Christian you must be. Christianity is not a religion of half-measures. You cannot be a Christian part of the time, or only in certain aspects of your life. In accepting Christ’s “word of truth,” you embrace a total way of life. You need to gain a master’s competence in the profession of Christianity.
And just as every serious workman wants to stand before his employer and declare, “Yes, I am prepared to do everything you ask of me”—so with the same words should we, as Christians, present ourselves before our Lord and Creator. In the deepest sense, this is our gift to God.
It is an awesome thing to realize that we stand before our Creator—not just at the end of our lives, but at every point in life. At this very moment, in fact. Every day, our Lord is asking something of us—great things and small things. And it is the greatest blessing in mortal life to be able to declare, “Yes, Lord, I can do what you ask of me. I am prepared to perform your will.”