When Paul wept- Wednesday, 7th Week in Easter – Acts 20:28-38
Paul’s farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus, whom he called to be with him in Miletus, now draws to an end. This address, the only one he makes to an entirely Christian community ends most emotionally and one can sense the great bond that Paul developed with the Ephesians, for it is here that he spent three years of his life during the last missionary journey.
Paul is no idealistic fool or sentimental leader. He is fully aware of the opposition faced by him in Ephesus both from the Greeks and the Jews. There were also the Judaizers, Jews who now followed Christ but who had rejected the decision of the council of Jerusalem which opened its doors to the Gentiles albeit with conditions. These Judaizers continued to be a thorn in Paul’s side, questioning his authority as apostle and his teachings. The seeds of doubt that they sowed were scattered in practically every city that Paul had ministered to.
Paul now entrusts the Church of Ephesus to be guarded by the elders; not only the care of the flock but also of themselves. Christian leaders are no strangers to the assault of the evil one. Jesus himself said that the shepherd will be struck and the sheep scattered. Paul wants the elders to guard themselves first from “the savage wolves “who ‘will spring from the flock’.
The enemies of Christ are not always an adversary standing outside the door of the Church but perhaps holding a prayer book inside. So how should the Christian leader protect oneself? This they must do by keeping communion with the Lord. The Christian leader must be in fellowship with the Lord or they cannot expect to be spiritual guides to “shepherd the Church.”
The shepherds of the Church must be able to recognise the voice of Christ the shepherd and the Holy Spirit (verse28). It is by the mandate of the Holy Spirit that they are selected leaders and not by some popular vote. The Church does not belong to the leaders but “is the Church of God” and “obtained by the blood of his own Son”. (Verse 28)
Most Christians think that if they are attacked it will be in the form of physical persecution from outside. The greatest danger to the faith is doctrinal attacks that come from within and Paul acknowledges this when he says, “some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.” The Christian leader must also have the courage to identify traditional behaviours that seem here to stay and corrupt the true practice of the faith.
But mere fidelity to doctrine is incomplete without the same reflected in ones manner of life. Paul’s credentials as leader are not only seen in the way he upheld doctrine but by the very manner of his life. Even though Paul made a large collection for the poor for the Church in Jerusalem, he never “coveted any ones silver, gold or clothing” but worked as a tent maker to support himself and his companions. Paul’s manner of life is exemplary and puts in focus the judicious use of Church money.
There is a crying need for lesser administrative costs and a greater need for pastoral spending in the Church. I feel proud to belong to an Archdiocese where the Bishops have ad nauseam told the clergy to spend the money of the Church on pastoral needs and on the poor. Paul recognized that his own life must be lived as a witness to the Ephesians so that his very manner of life becomes his legacy and testament.
Paul now knows it is time for him to depart for Jerusalem and as he declared earlier, he has a premonition of suffering and persecution that awaits him. He kneels down with the elders in prayer and there is much weeping. They all know this is the last time they will set eyes on Paul. Their hearts broken, they still hold on to his words. Paul is lead to the ship that will take him to Jerusalem. (21:1-16)
Fr Warner D’Souza