Greet Prisca, Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained in Corinth, and I left Trophimus behind at Miletus because he was ill.
2 Timothy 4:19-20
The traditional view is that this is one of the last, if not the last correspondence of Paul before his death. The concluding chapter certainly is filled with personal references and reads as an intimate letter from one close friend to another.
At the end of this letter Paul is asking for his friend Timothy to come to him where he is imprisoned in Rome. Along the way Timothy is to notify one person and another of Paul’s condition and to retrieve pieces of Paul’s personal belongings. If Paul is the writer (his authorship of this epistle is disputed) we have an extraordinary glimpse into his ordering of affairs before his death.
What interests me in these two short verses is the mention of Trophimus. He was a traveling companion of Paul and was inadvertently the cause of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. Paul had been seen about the city with Trophimus (a Gentile) and some thought Paul had taken him into the Temple, thus profaning the sacred space of Israel. A near riot ensued (Acts 20 and 21).
This same Trophimus Paul left behind due to an illness. The apostles were known for healing and other acts by which the Sacred was manifested through them. Yet, at this juncture Trophimus is left to the care of God without any assurance of how things might turn out. Parallel to Trophimus situation is Paul’s own imprisonment without any assurance of how things will unfold.
In the language of faith entrusting people and their situations to the Sacred is called providence. Over the years I have taken issue with this notion. I confess I have seen too many faithful people scapegoat the Holy through a loose and shallow understanding of providential care. Once, I was even told about a wheelchair bound person being struck by lightning as the will of God - strange providence indeed.
However, understood in its rooted sense providence is not a blind belief that whatever happens is the will or want of God. Providence, like that expressed by Paul, is a trust that the unknown resolution to our circumstances is in the hands of God - a trust born out of past experiences of the Sacred. “I left Trophimus behind at Miletus” is an expression that Paul trusts that Trophimus is better off there then with him, even though earlier in the letter Paul writes of desiring companionship.
It is difficult when we feel powerless. Yet, to leave justice and cultural norms in the hands of a future we can work toward but cannot force is an act of providential faith. To claim our fabulous lesbian, transgender, bisexual, gay, and queer dreams in the face of all that flies before us is an act of protest that is embraced as part of God's vision for God's creation. In this sense God's providence is also protest: a fuller complete future unfolding in spite of the present realities.