This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
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.
Doubtless, the relationship of apostle and congregation was not always as close as the one depicted here by Luke. Paul’s letters bear witness to some of the strains. Both sources of information however agree in depicting it as always a personal relationship. The messenger is not merely the carrier of the message; he reveals himself, gives of himself, and is tested to the full in the course of his duty. (I’m using the masculine pronouns for convenience only) The medium is certainly part of the message.
One of Paul’s concerns was that the preaching of the good news should not be a charge on its recipients, so he earned his keep through his own work as a tent-maker/leather worker, a useful skill to which he could always turn.
Paul was a missionary not a minister, but maybe churches today could benefit from looking at the way he worked, as a model for ministry.
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.
Jesus, like Paul, is “going away” and is also concerned that his disciples should hold to the truth; or, be held by the truth. The truth is a relationship first and foremost: Jesus’ unity with the Father into which the disciples are invited. The spoken word of truth detaches the disciples from the world and unites them with Jesus and the Father. The world is resistant to the truth, but there will always be those who turn from the world towards the truth, through the witness of those whom God sends into the world.
Those who are consecrated in the church’s mission today should also be consecrated in truth. In a world of noisy liars, disciples must live quietly in the truth. That requires a personal relationship with God and an orthodox theology. People without personal faith or orthodox theology should be challenged and if necessary excluded from positions of authority in the Christian Church.
For example, someone who considers that the Bible is in no sense the word of God, should be challenged, as should someone who thinks the Bible is in a direct sense the word of God. Both need to look again at the orthodox belief that Jesus Christ is the primary Word of God, and the Bible, read within the church, with the illumination of the Spirit, is the secondary word of witness to Him.
Simone Weil thought that the dissemination of lies should be a criminal offence, because the harm done to society is incalculable. Although I think that Rupert Murdoch is a criminal and has done great harm, I would not myself demand prison, but would be satisfied if his media empire was dismantled and its lying operatives deported to Australia.
But if I take those lies so seriously, I must also be more concerned than I have been with the issue of heresy in the church. A church that ignores heresy is not consecrated in the truth.