Paul’s Swan Song

Last Updated on December 22, 2022 by GMC

“Paul’s Swan Song”
2 Timothy 4:6 “in a snailshell”
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NABRE)

For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (RSV)

Poured Out Like a Libation

Writing from a Roman prison, Paul’s eloquent letter to Timothy exudes faith and inner freedom under “chains” (2 Timothy 1:16; 2:9). In union with Christ crucified, the apostle resolutely accepts persecution as a sacrifice to God. Emptied of all worldly honor and possessions, Paul likens himself to a libation—a drink offering, usually of wine, poured out to the gods (spendomai). Since the ritual was widely practiced in ancient Greece and Rome, the image resonated with his contemporaries. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” Paul earlier wrote (Philippians 1:21).

The Time of My Departure Has Come

William Barclay elucidates a fourfold image in the word analusis (translated as “departure”):

He goes on to say: “The time of my departure is at hand.” The word (analusis) he uses for departure is a vivid one. It has many a picture in it and each tells us something about leaving this life. 

  1. It is the word for unyoking an animal from the shafts of the cart or the plough. Death to Paul was rest from toil. As Spenser had it, ease after toil, port after stormy seas, death after life, are lovely things.
  2. It is the word for loosening bonds or fetters. Death for Paul was a release. He was to exchange the confines of a Roman prison for the glorious liberty of the courts of heaven.
  3. It is the word for loosening the ropes of a tent. For Paul it was time to strike camp again. Many a journey he had made across the roads of Asia Minor and of Europe. Now he was setting out on his last and greatest journey; he was taking the road that led to God.
  4. It is the word for loosening the mooring-ropes of a ship. Many a time Paul had felt his ship leave the harbour for the deep waters. Now he is to launch out into the greatest deep of all, setting sail to cross the waters of death to arrive in the haven of eternity.

So then, for the Christian, death is laying down the burden in order to rest; it is laying aside the shackles in order to be free; it is striking camp in order to take up residence in the heavenly places; it is casting off the ropes which bind us to this world in order to set sail on the voyage which ends in the presence of God. Who then shall fear it?

I Have Fought the Good Fight, I Have Finished the Race

With confidence, Paul looks forward to his eternal rest, certain that he served Christ manfully throughout his apostolic mission. Fighting and running metaphors shape the Pauline vision of the Christian life.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath (crown), but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.

1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (ESV)

The word agon (“fight,” “agony”) captures the struggle of the life of faith. Great energy is expended day after day, hour after hour, witnessing to Jesus Christ through actions and words. In ancient Greece, agon evoked grueling athletic contests such as the Olympic games. According to Euripedes and Xenophon, these games “could be so severe they caused the toughest men to crumble” (HELPS Word-studies). As a combatant for Christ, Paul put on the “armor of God” and wrestled “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” to his last breath (Ephesians 6:11-12).

I Have Kept the Faith

In the footsteps of Abraham and Moses, Paul “kept the faith.” Behind the Greek words pistin tetērēka, Phillip Goble, author of the Orthodox Jewish Bible, identifies the Hebraic concept of “guarding” or “keeping” (shamar) the “faith” (emunah).

The milchemet tzedek (war of righteousness) I have fought, the course I have finished, the emunah [Yd 1:3] I have been shomer over.

2 Timothy 4:7 (OJB)

With the torch of Christ held aloft, the Pharisee-turned-apostle raced to the finish line as a zealous “guardian of the faith.”

The Crown of Righteousness

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:8 (RSV)

In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people.

Isaiah 28:5 (RSV)

But the righteous live for ever,
and their reward is with the Lord;
the Most High takes care of them.
Therefore they will receive a glorious crown
and a beautiful diadem from the hand of the Lord,
because with his right hand he will cover them,
and with his arm he will shield them.

Wisdom 5:15-16 (RSV)

Fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant, Christ is the crown of righteousness and glory for his people on the day of eternity. Pauline imagery draws upon the prophet Isaiah and the Wisdom of Solomon. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Holy Spirit renews Wisdom’s poetic description of the “armor” of God.

The Lord will take his zeal as his whole armor,
and will arm all creation to repel his enemies;
he will put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and wear impartial justice as a helmet;
he will take holiness as an invincible shield,
and sharpen stern wrath for a sword,
and creation will join with him to fight against the madmen.

Wisdom 5:17-20 (RSV)

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:11-17 (RSV)

To All Who Have Longed For Christ’s Epiphany

The crown of righteousness encircles all who have ardently longed for, or loved (from agapaó), Christ’s appearing or manifestation (epiphaneia). 

“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.

Psalm 27:8-9 (ESV)

Paul’s Swan Song

The following poem encapsulates Paul’s final words to Timothy as he prepares to leave this life for his eternal reward.

Pour me out, Lord, as a libation
Pleasing to you—a pure oblation.
Freed from my chains, unyoked from the weight,
Striking tent, I sail for heaven’s gate.

I have fought the good fight, run the race,
Kept the faith, while longing for his face.
The crown of righteousness awaits me
And all who love his epiphany.

“Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

1 Timothy 6:12 (RSV)

Related to the Gospel of the Day:

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

4 Replies to “Paul’s Swan Song”

  1. The prayers of humanity are most often entreaties for the good things here on the earthly plane–health for ourselves and our families, prosperity, fame, fortune, or power. We ask for strength, wisdom and prudence… but usually to accomplish some earthly goal. This prayer of Paul’s is for none of those. He is done with the things of earth. His eyes are on the prize which waits beyond the constraints of the material realm.

    1. What a beautiful reflection, Theresa! Heaven puts the earth into perspective by detaching us from all that is fleeting. Mysteriously, by aiming at heaven, the saints pull the earth up with them.

      “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
      -C.S. Lewis

      1. I love that C.S. Lewis quote! From a very young age, I have known that this earth is not my true home. As others might feel fear at life ending…I feel joy knowing that it brings me ever closer to my Lord, my God, my Savior. After I struggle, and stumble and fall and climb up the mountain of my earthly journey, He will take my hand and pull me to the summit. “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions,” He said. I’ll be happy with a studio!

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