The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Kinda Sad

Can the privileged citizens of the empire proclaim the gospel of the oppressed?

by Russell Rathbun

Epistle Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

For Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010: Year C – Ordinary 30

This is kinda sad. When the Epistle readings are all full of ethical demands and righteous declarations, I find them a bit off-putting and uninspiring. They never really grab me; they turn me off. Not that I always need something zingy in the text to engage me, but I do like something that feels alive.

2 Timothy Feels Alive

After looking at this week’s Epistle lesson, I went back and read the whole letter. It is beautiful and sad. It is Paul, in jail, facing his impending execution.

There is poetry in this letter.

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.

There is a real, vulnerable person here. It is unfortunate that the Lectionariers left out verses 9-15, almost the best part of the whole book. Paul seems a little scared and lonely. He names those who have deserted him.

The whole letter is full of names:

Timothy, Lois, Eunic, Phtgelus, Hermongenes, Onesiphorus, Hymenaeus, Phietus (who swerved from the truth), Junnes, Jambres, Demas, Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus, Carpus, Alexander the coppersmith who did me much harm, Prisca, Aquila, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.

. . . twenty-six and counting. The inclusion of these names, as well as the list of mundane tasks and items, serves to further point to his fragile humanity.

When you come bring the cloak that I left, also the books and the parchment.

A Future That Will Not Come

He is planning for a future he knows will not come to be. Paul is trying to stake himself to this world as his life slowly pours out of him

At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!

Paul is not just dying. He is going to be killed. Presumably he is in prison for proclaiming the Good News, a message that has the power to threaten the Roman Empire.

The Hardest Question

The vulnerability of this letter brings Paul so close, yet his context is so completely foreign to any thing I will ever experience. 2 Timothy brings up a really hard question that haunts me often as I prepare to preach in my context: Can the privileged citizens of the empire proclaim the gospel of the oppressed?

Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. Gayle says:

    Thank you. I was taking the Gospel reading in the direction of your hardest question – so your reflection is a great connection of the two readings for me.

How do you read?