Print Version November 8th, 2004
I must admit to feeling let down whenever we come round to read Titus. It feels so buttoned-up, so institutional, so dull. Whatever else you might say for the Paul in the missionary letters you can’t call him dull. He can be enthusiastic, argumentative, quarrelsome, bold, stubborn, brilliant, eloquent, touching, controversial but not dull.
So much so that most scholars reckon that Titus and the two letters to Timothy are the works of others taking upon themselves the authority of Paul to write about concerns that Paul could scarcely imagine. Or maybe he was just getting old!
The problem is this: what do you do when the apostles are dead and gone? How do you keep going? How do you stay faithful? –and to what?
The religion we belong to started out as a movement within Judaism, became marginalised as a Jewish sect, transformed into any number of separate gatherings or churches apart from Judaism, before ending up as a religion in its own right. And Titus is written in the middle of all that changing.
So how do we stay true to our heritage? How do we remain faithful to the breaking of the bread? How do we incarnate here today the spirit of him who gave us birth?
The Titus and co. give us one answer: put good, reliable people in charge. And you can hardly argue with that. Jesus didn’t but—hey!—sometimes you have to be realistic. Count his disciples: insurgent, hothead, collaborator, dreamer … betrayer: they might be good enough for Jesus but we have churches to look after…
Putting good people in charge is never enough to preserve the charism we have inherited. For a start it ignores the institutional drive to stagnation and bureaucracy and defensive self-preservation. But more crucially, it betrays a founder whose driving principle wasn’t preservation but preaching, not keeping safe but provoking a response, not lifting up but being let down. The cross is not a sensible way to build a church. Thank God Jesus had far less sense than the letter to Titus.