The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Pentecost XXVI...busybodies, distractions, and doing what is right
© 2016 Frank B Crumbaugh III


“Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”[1]

[1] II Thessalonians 3:6-13  NRSV​

You know my thoroughgoing contempt for nosy meddlers and hyper-curious persons with very poor personal boundaries. These are precisely the people II Thessalonians describes as περιεργαζομένους -  “busybodies.”[1]  Far beyond annoying or tiresome, they’re toxic. Without self-governance and having poor personal boundaries, busybodies break the personal boundaries of others, prying into affairs that are none of their business. This makes life so unpleasant, and it is among the most destructive behaviors manifested in human communities. Everything from corporate boardrooms to the PTA, Scout troops and Little League, to parish churches are susceptible. No human community is immune. Thessalonika is proof. 

II Thessalonians[2] addresses busybody behavior in a particular context. Some issues raised in I Thessalonians required adjustment as time went along. Specifically, the writer of II Thessalonians addresses growing uncertainty in Thessalonika about the Second Coming. By the time this letter is written, Jesus’ return seemed to have been delayed. The Church wondered if perhaps they had not understood Paul correctly...or maybe Jesus had changed His mind...who knew? The longer Jesus’ return was “delayed,” the more anxious they became. Expanding the teaching of the first letter, II Thessalonians encourages the Church to persist in faithfulness, not losing heart or getting distracted, as they waited for Him to appear. 

This is where busybodies enter the conversation- they’re distracting and burdening an already anxious community as it struggles to be faithful. 

Most of us live lives that are sufficiently busy to require our full attention. Most of us have all we can say Grace over; tending to our own business is a full time job, and tending to someone else’s is just silly, if not impossible. Busybodies don’t have full lives, very much by their own choice, and they compound their choices to avoid full lives by insinuating themselves into the affairs of others. Being bored with your own life can do that to you. Of course, there are also the busybodies who have gotten their own lives organized in order to make meddlesome behavior their life’s work. And still others, trying to avoid themselves and the chaotic shambles of their own lives become voyeurs- hobbyists- in the affairs of other people. Any one of these fosters the mischief about which Canon South wrote:  “The busybody is a treacherous supplanter and underminer of the peace of families and societies. It is a maxim of unfailing truth, that nobody ever pries into another man's concerns but with a design to do, or to be able to do, him a mischief.”[3] 

Such mischief harms any community, and Thessalonika is no different. There were individuals who were, if not actively interfering with, at least greatly distracting the larger community. Their theological understanding of the Second Coming was misguided; it appears that their initial understandings were so literal that they figured He was coming back in the next few days, and it seems that mistake was literal enough that some of them stopped working for a living! Fair enough. As time went on, however, their behavior went from mere theological differences to being misguided, and from there to becoming a load on the rest of the community-  divisive if not outright obstructionist. Perhaps they enjoyed not working, and when the Second Coming was ”delayed,” the issue no longer was a theological difference and became instead a need to justify themselves. Their theological misunderstandings gave opportunity for meddlesome behavior.  The busybodies at Thessalonika are counterproductive, and far from supporting each other in the daily grind of continuing life, they themselves are the daily grind. Not working, they further burdened the remainder of the community, and they had plenty of time to meddle. [4] That’s the περιεργαζομένους -  “busybodies” context in which II Thessalonians is written. 

An athletic metaphor works- you have to keep your eye on the ball. If you don’t, the game goes badly. It may go badly anyway for any number of other reasons, but there’s absolutely no chance of anything other than disaster if you don’t pay attention. This is the encouragement of II Thessalonians- keep your eye on the ball. The busybodies had forgotten [or didn’t care] that the entire community was one team, and they were harming their teammates with at best an overenthusiastic hope of the parousia or just plain old indolent sloth, and at worst an intentional, pernicious desire to sow strife and discord....the community didn’t coalesce well because of them. The text makes its appeal in straightforward terms assuming the faithful already know what needs to happen: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”[5] The writer of II Thessalonians encourages the faithful to persist in doing what they know to be faithfully right, even and especially when members of their own community are distracting, weakening and harming the community. 

The light is shortening and weakening. The waters around us are turning the pewter grey we expect of winter, and the white sky of cold weather is taking its place overhead, edging out the blue sky of warmer weather. As the days change and move forward, as we edge toward the peace and gentle expectation of Advent, let us hear the generous appeal and encouragement to “not weary in doing what is right.” Let us keep Advent modeling this for one another, waiting for His Coming as the faithful at Thessalonika waited- undistracted, working quietly, doing right by God, and one another. 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 13 November 2016, being The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

[1] II Thessalonians 3:11  NRSV

[2] The letter is pseudepigraphic, meaning that it is written in Paul’s voice, most likely after the Apostle’s death, as a revision of the earlier letter which he (Paul) did write.

[3]  private papers of The Rev’d Canon Robert South, DD, Prebendary of Westminster, and University Preacher and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, 1634-1716

[4] ....passive/aggressive voyeuristic exploitation (or worse)- people gratifying themselves by interfering in another person’s life without that other person’s invitation or consent.

[5] II Thessalonians 3:13  NRSV