For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
When I read through this reading I can’t help but hear an echo of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. (Luke 18: 9-14) The Pharisee taking centre-stage and, in a not so quiet voice, declaring ‘God, I thank you that I am righteousness and not foolish, disobedient, led astray, a slave to various passions and pleasures, prone to passing my days in malice and envy, being despicable, or hating others like those people.’ And then in a quiet dimly lit corner, facing the wall, the tax-collector mumbling ‘God, I give thanks for your loving-kindness and mercy, your free gift of rebirth and renewal, and the example of Christ to follow even though I keep stumbling along the way.’
The writer of this letter isn’t using this list in this way though. They are encouraging positive behaviour, not the humiliation of others. The writer is acknowledging that both they, and the recipients of the letter, had previously led very imperfect lives but that now, through no action of theirs and completely reliant on the grace of God, they are now saved from such lives.
They may well be saved, but you don’t bother writing a letter in the ancient world if everything is rosy. Probably the writer has heard that people within the community that Titus gathers together are behaving in such ways, or like the Pharisee in the parable. The letter is sent to encourage them that God is good, loving and merciful, and the opportunity to change is present within every moment. God has saved them and them being prudent, obedient, faithful, self-controlled, kind, generous, admirable, and loving is not a condition of that liberation but a loving response to it.
Living God, you place reminders of your goodness before us if we but look to see them.
Through the example of Jesus, our fellow travellers on his Way, and the actions of your Spirit in the world, you encourage us to lead faithful and loving lives.
Yet we still stumble and need to be reminded of your goodness before we turn in on ourselves, forgetting your invitation to renewal.
May Your goodness, mercy and love be present this day. Amen