Wednesday, May 19, 2010

As You Sent Me, I Am Sending Them Into The World. Consecrate Them In Truth.

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 20:28-38
At Miletus, Paul spoke to the presbyters
of the Church of Ephesus:
“Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock
of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers,
in which you tend the Church of God
that he acquired with his own Blood.
I know that after my departure
savage wolves will come among you,
and they will not spare the flock.
And from your own group,
men will come forward perverting the truth
to draw the disciples away after them.

So be vigilant and remember
that for three years, night and day,
I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears.
And now I commend you to God
and to that gracious word of his that can build you up
and give you the inheritance
among all who are consecrated.
I have never wanted
anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.
You know well that these very hands
have served my needs and my companions.
In every way I have shown you
that by hard work of that sort
we must help the weak,
and keep in mind the words
of the Lord Jesus who himself said,
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

When he had finished speaking
he knelt down and prayed with them all.
They were all weeping loudly
as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him,
for they were deeply distressed that he had said
that they would never see his face again.
Then they escorted him to the ship.
Just to remind ourselves - we are still with Paul on his Third Missionary Journey. And today we have the second part of his farewell discourse to the elders of the church at Ephesus. In the first part Paul had spoken mainly about himself.

In today’s reading he begins by reminding them that they are to carry out the responsibility implied in their title. As ‘elders’ (presbyteroi) they are called to watch over the flock entrusted to them. They have been appointed ‘overseers’. The “elders” are called “overseers” (episkopoi, ‘episkopoi, from which come words like ‘bishop’ and ‘episcopal’) and told to pastor (”shepherd”) the flock - demonstrating that the same men could be called “elders”, “overseers” or “pastors” depending on how their role in the church was seen. This community is the “church of God”, acquired with his own blood. As God in himself does not spill blood, we can take it to mean that the work of the Father and of the Son are seen as one; what Jesus does, including the shedding of his blood, is an expression of everything his Father wills.

Paul envisages fierce attacks on the community after he has gone. “Savage wolves will come among you and they will not spare the flock.” Even from among themselves, people will arise who will “pervert the truth” and try to cause divisions among some of the Christians. So he begs them to take to heart all the teachings he gave them over a period of three years.

On the other hand, he is not in debt to them. He never asked for money or clothing from anyone. His needs and those of his companions were served by his own hands. This is something he has mentioned more than once with some pride and satisfaction. On the contrary his concerns have always been those who are weak and in need. And he quotes words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” A saying which, incidentally, is not quoted in any of the gospels but there must be many of Jesus’ sayings which did not get recorded in writing.
The passage concludes with the highly emotional departure scene with prayers and tears and much kissing and embracing. They believed they were never more to see the father of their church. In fact, they were to meet briefly once more.

There certainly is a good deal here for our own reflection. We have to be ready for our Christian communities today to come under attack, but hopefully without good reason. We have to admit, too, that there are often divisions among us and that we can twist the words of the Gospel to suit ourselves and our own interests.

We need to ask to what extent we really do take care of the weaker ones among us. We cannot separate the needs of the body from that of the spirit.
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Psalm 68
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
Show forth, O God, your power,
the power, O God, with which you took our part;
For your temple in Jerusalem
let the kings bring you gifts.
Sing to God, O Kingdoms of the earth.
You kingdoms of the earth, sing to God,
chant praise to the Lord
who rides on the heights of the ancient heavens.
Behold, his voice resounds, the voice of power:
“Confess the power of God!”
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
Over Israel is his majesty;
his power is in the skies.

Awesome in his sanctuary
is God, the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
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John 17:11b-19
Lifting up his eyes to heaven,
Jesus prayed, saying:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them
I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the Evil One.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.
Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
In this final part of Jesus’ prayer during his discourse to his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus now prays for all those who through the influence of disciples before us came to believe in Christ as Lord. Each one of us is among those Jesus is praying for here.

In this prayer Jesus prays above all for unity among his disciples as the most effective sign of witness. “By this will all know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another,” he had told his disciples earlier on in the discourse.

He now prays that we may display the same unity among ourselves and with Jesus as that which binds Jesus and the Father. It is through the love that Christians, coming as they do from so many ethnic groups and all classes of people, show for each other that they give the most effective witness to the message of Christ. “May they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me.”

It is said that, in the early Church, people marvelled, “See those Christians, how they love each other.” In a world divided along so many lines, people were amazed to see Jews and Greeks, men and women, slaves and freemen, rich and poor sharing a common community life in love and forgiveness and mutual support. It clearly would lead people to ask what was the secret of this group.

Is that the witness that we are giving today? What do people see when they look at our parishes? What do they see when they look at our families? What are they to think of the painful divisions of so many groups who claim Jesus as their Lord? How can we maintain such divisions in the face of these words of Jesus?

Obviously, we all have much to think and pray about regarding our “spiritual” life and the impact we make in drawing people to Christ (and that includes bringing back many who have left in confusion and disillusionment).

So let us make our own the last words of Jesus’ prayer today: “I have made your name known to them [his disciples] and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

Paul's farewell is very similar to Jesus' words in today's reading. Paul warns of 'wolves' and Jesus of the Evil One. Paul says: 'And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.' This practically sums up today's reading from John.

Jesus asks the Father: 'keep them in your name.' It's almost as though the name of God is a protective sheepfold around the flock. Names define things, they put a boundary around them, but the name of God is different. Human beings cannot put a boundary around God. Instead, the Name is a protective boundary around the flock. We undermine the name of God at our own pèril.

The flock is protected by the Name, the Word and the Truth. Jesus is Himself all three.