Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Now This Is Eternal Life: To Know You, The One True God, And The One Whom You Have Sent, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 20:17-27
From Miletus Paul had the presbyters
of the Church at Ephesus summoned.
When they came to him, he addressed them,
“You know how I lived among you
the whole time from the day
I first came to the province of Asia.
I served the Lord with all humility
and with the tears and trials that came to me
because of the plots of the Jews,
and I did not at all shrink from telling you
what was for your benefit,
or from teaching you in public or in your homes.
I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks
to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus.
But now, compelled by the Spirit,
I am going to Jerusalem.
What will happen to me there I do not know,
except that in one city after another
the Holy Spirit has been warning me
that imprisonment and hardships await me.
Yet I consider life of no importance to me,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.

“But now I know that none of you
to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels
will ever see my face again.
And so I solemnly declare to you this day
that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you,
for I did not shrink from proclaiming
to you the entire plan of God.”
We are still with Paul on his Third Missionary Journey. A great number of exciting events happens during the latter part of the journey most of which, unfortunately, is omitted in our liturgy readings.

Paul spent two or three years in Ephesus altogether. Yesterday, we saw him vigorously preaching to the Jews in the synagogue over a period of three months. Eventually, however, the usual opposition arose from a number of Jews who refused to accept his message. So Paul withdrew from the synagogue and went instead to continue his preaching in a public hall. This continued for two years so that the Word was heard not only in Ephesus but through all the surrounding Roman province of Asia. Paul also revealed extraordinary healing powers so that even a piece of cloth which had been in contact with his skin would heal diseases and drive out evil spirits.

Following this, there is an incident involving wandering Jewish exorcists who tried to use the name of Jesus to drive out evil spirits but were themselves attacked by an evil spirit who shouted: “Jesus I recognise, Paul I know, but who are you?”

This is followed by the even more exciting riot by the silversmiths of Ephesus. They made their money by selling silver images of Artemis, the goddess of the great temple. They saw Paul and his disparaging remarks about man-made idols as a serious threat to their business. Paul wanted to confront them but his companions would not let him; he would almost certainly have been lynched. The whole affray was eventually brought to a peaceful conclusion by the city clerk who said the complainers on the one hand were exaggerating the effects of Paul’s preaching and, in any case, they could go to the courts if they had legitimate complaints (cf. Acts 19:23-40).

After this, Paul crossed over to Macedonia (Thessalonica and Philippi) meeting the Christians there and then moved south to Greece, where he stayed for about three months. He surely would have spent much of that time in Corinth. He then returned to Macedonia and took ship from Philippi for Troas (Troy). It was here that, while Paul was preaching in the upper room of a house, there were many lamps lighting, which would have made the place very warm. “As Paul talked on and on” a young man called Eutychus who was sitting by the window became drowsy and fell out on to the ground below. When he was picked up, they found him dead but Paul lay down on him and restored him to life. A consoling story for all preachers!

From Troas Paul moved southwards to Assos, which was quite near, and then by ship to Miletus, which lay south of Ephesus on present-day Turkey’s west coast. There he called for the elders (presbyters) or leaders of the church in Ephesus to give them final instructions and say farewell to them.

The importance of the leadership of elders is evident throughout Paul’s ministry. He appointed elders in each church on his first missionary journey and addressed the holders of this office later in Philippi, where they are called episkopoi, literally ‘overseers’ (Philippians 1:1) - a word which would give us the term ‘bishop’. An ‘overseer’ seems to have been a presbyter with some executive authority in the community. In the letters to Timothy and Titus are listed the qualifications to become a presbyter (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).

Now, Paul is calling the Ephesian elders to meet with him on what is, for him, a very solemn and sad occasion. It is the third great discourse given by Paul in the Acts. Today and tomorrow we will read his words. In summary, it is the last testament of a pastor leaving his flock for what he believes is the last time.

Many of the details of this third discourse are found in his letters and its tone is that of the Pastoral Letters (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). After referring to his mission in Asia, he speaks of this occasion as a final parting and seems to hint at his death. His last advice to the elders of Ephesus (and through them to all the pastors in every church) is vigilance, selflessness, charity. In all of this Paul appeals to his own example: the discourse therefore draws a faithful portrait of the apostle himself.

His words form one of the most touching passages in the New Testament. Paul was a tough man in many respects but he was also a very emotional one and this comes out very clearly in this moving discourse.

In summary he tells the elders:
     » Since the time he came to the region, his life has been an open book for all to read. He has nothing to hide.
     » He has served the Lord faithfully with tears and trials arising from the opposition from some of his fellow-Jews;
     » He has given testimony to both Jews and Gentiles about repentance (metanoia) before God and faith in the Lord Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus involves both total commitment in trust and a re-ordering of one’s life in accordance with the Gospel vision.
      » He describes himself as already “a prisoner in the spirit”. This can mean that he already anticipates his arrest or that he is being driven to Jerusalem by the Spirit of God, in spite of people’s pleas that he not go.
      » He is not sure what is going to happen to him but the Spirit has warned him of imprisonment and coming hardships.
      » But these warnings do not depress him. His life is not important to him. What is important is that he complete the mission entrusted to him, “that I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, namely, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace”. That is all that matters to him. As he tells the Philippians, compared to the sharing of the Gospel with others, life and death are secondary. All he ever wanted was to love and serve his Lord, Jesus Christ and to spread the Good News about him (cf. Philippians 1:18-24 and also 1 Corinthians 9:23-27; Galatians 2:19-20 for similar statements).

Paul concludes today’s passage by saying that he does not think that they will ever meet again in this world but his conscience is clear as far as the efforts he made to share the Gospel with them. At this time, Paul was intending to return to Jerusalem and then to visit Spain. Although it was his conviction that he would never see Ephesus again, there is evidence that he did return after his imprisonment in Rome.

Tomorrow we will continue the second part of this moving farewell.

In the meantime, we could perhaps look back on our own lives and ask what has been our commitment to Jesus and his Gospel, and what have we done to share it with others. Do we have any regrets about things we have done or not done? Is my life an open book? Do I regret now pain or sufferings, physical or emotional, which I experienced in doing what I believed was right and just? If I had my life to live again, what changes would I make? In the light of that, what changes can I make now?

+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 68
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth
A bountiful rain you showered down,
O God, upon your inheritance;
you restored the land when it languished;
Your flock settled in it;
in your goodness, O God,
you provided it for the needy.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
Blessed day by day be the Lord,
who bears our burdens;
God, who is our salvation.
God is a saving God for us;
the LORD, my Lord,
controls the passageways of death.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 17:1-11a
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son,
so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life
to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
I glorified you on earth
by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had
with you before the world began.

“I revealed your name
to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them
and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world
but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours,
and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.”
Today we move on to the great chapter 17 of John. Jesus is still with his disciples at the Last Supper and this is the final part of his discourse. It consists of a long prayer, sometimes called the High Priestly prayer of Jesus.

The prayer can be said to be in three parts:
    » Jesus prays for his own mission;
    » he prays for his immediate disciples, who are with him as he prays;
    » he prays for all those who in later times will become his disciples.

Jesus begins by praying for the success of his mission. He prays that, through his passion, death and resurrection, he may find glory. In John’s gospel Jesus’ glory begins with his passion and the high moment is the moment of his dying on the cross which is also the moment of resurrection and union with the Father. This glory is not for himself but to lead people to glorify God, of whom Jesus is the Revealer and Mediator.

In turn, he prays that all he does may lead to people everywhere sharing in the life of God. And what is that life? It is stated here in one of the key sayings of Jesus reported in the Gospel: “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

To know God and to know Jesus is to acknowledge their unique place as the source and end of all we have and are. To know the Father and Jesus is to have as full as possible an understanding of Jesus’ message and to have assimilated it into one’s whole life. It is not just a knowledge of recognition but a mutual identification of vision and values. As the Jerusalem Bible comments: “In biblical language, ‘knowledge’ is not merely the conclusion of an intellectual process but the fruit of an ‘experience’, a personal contact. When it matures, it is love.”

It is to be aware of that, to accept that fully as the secret of life, not just in the world to come but here and now. Everything else - and it really means everything - is secondary to this. To put anything else, however lofty, in first place is to go astray.

Jesus has given glory to the Father by all that he has said and done. He now prays again that glory will be given to him, because by giving glory to him we give glory to his Father also. In fact, it is through Jesus, through our total identification with him, that we give glory to God.

Jesus now prays for his disciples, the “men you took from the world to give me”. Although it was Jesus who chose them, ultimately they are the gift of the Father to help Jesus continue his work on earth. Jesus thanks God that they have recognised that he comes from the Father and that they have accepted his teaching. And, because they belong to Jesus, they also belong to the Father and through them Jesus will receive glory.

Finally, they have been chosen from the world and yet will remain in the world, though not sharing in its values. In fact, they will give glory to Jesus precisely by challenging the values of that world and leading it to the ‘eternal life’ which they have discovered through Jesus and which they have already begun to enjoy.

We thank Jesus for his disciples. We thank them for handing on to us the secret of life.

We thank them for the giving of themselves, sometimes through a martyr’s death, to share that secret with us. We recognise that they, like us, had many weaknesses but Jesus still worked through them and through them the world came to know Jesus.

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