All this did not keep Eunice and Lois from teaching their boy the faith.
On Mother’s Day— after church but before we sit down to the dinner their father is preparing for their grandmother—the boys and I walk the streets of our neighborhood. We take that slow stroll down to the creek. The air is thick with the promise of a thunderstorm and I think of those fat steaks wrapped in butcher paper, waiting for the grill.
It’s the same thing we do every day—this walk—but somehow it’s different this day. They let their shoulders touch mine. They let me drape my arm across a back. I feel their love as thick as the coming rain and I make them promise that it will always be this way…that their mamma will always be their first love.
It’s crazy talk, we all know, but they grin and say it, tease me about the nursing home.
And I think about the scripture the pastor read in church that morning. The one about Timothy, and his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. And I wonder about the ways faith moves from one generation to another. Of all the things I want for my boys…I want this the most–that they would know faith as deep and sure roots.
I watch my boys goof and I wonder.
I don’t know if Timothy had a brother.
His mother was a Jewess we are told, and a believer, but his father was a Greek. What must that have looked like in ancient Jewish society? I don’t know, I can only speculate, but I found this word when I studied about Timothy—mamzer. Outcast in Yiddish—one born of a Biblically forbidden union.
What must that have done to Eunice?
We are told that from childhood Timothy has been taught the scriptures. Scripture also tells us he was uncircumcised until he joined Paul’s ministry. What it doesn’t say is that he was likely considered a mamzer—a child of an illegitimate marriage, an outsider. In Jewish tradition, children of mixed marriages typically trace their heritage through the mother’s side of the family, but in Timothy’s case, it was not quite so simple. Since he remained uncircumcised Timothy would have been viewed as both Greek and Jew. Something that would keep him from being fully included in either community. As an uncircumcised male, Timothy would have been forbidden to enter the synagogue. Forbidden entry to that place of worship, schooling and community so prominent in Jewish life. And not only was he forbidden to enter that sacred place, but it was considered an abomination for the circumcised to eat with the uncircumcised. Timothy could not take a simple meal with his Jewish brothers and sisters. Worship and breaking bread. Two very important community activities.
He must have felt like he didn’t belong anywhere.
I watch my boys throw round stones into water and I am overcome for Timothy. Did the other children call him names—refuse to play with him? Did they run from him when they passed him by—afraid they might catch his uncleanness?
Some scholars believe that it must have been on Paul’s first missionary journey to Lystra (around 44AD) that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were converted to Christianity and though we don’t know how old Timothy was at that time, he must have been but a boy, for about ten years later in his letter to Timothy, Paul is still referring to him as “young”.
Who was that little boy that Paul kept returning to? Was it a broken, lonely little boy, filled with shame that Paul discovered on that first missionary journey? What must it have been like to long for a part—any part—in a community that refused to accept him? And then came Paul. Paul who knew a little bit about being an outsider himself. Paul who says in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile…Paul, who recognized that the very thing that set Timothy apart from his community made him the perfect disciple for the task at hand. Bridging these two communities.
Can you imagine what that must have meant to a young Timothy? No more exclusion. No more shame…
Can you imagine what that must have meant to Eunice? To Timothy’s mother? All those years of watching her son be rejected…all those years of hurting for him.
We are walking along the creek bank when the rain comes. It’s not the promised thunderstorm but a gentle mist. And as the sky kisses my skin I think of all the mamma tears that have been cried over time and space and I think that they would flood the world.
And I give thanks for Eunice. I give thanks for all the Eunices in the world—for all the mammas. For all the tears and the hard places they go because of love.
Because of love.