Today’s first Mass reading from Acts is one that never fails to move me. It is part of Paul’s farewell address to the people of Ephesus.
Paul had been living among the Ephesians, teaching them in public and in their homes, and clearly developing close relationships there. Yet, he is now “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem. And Paul seems to know this is no quick vacation from which he will return to his friend; he tells then that the Holy Spirit has been warning him that imprisonment and hardships and his likely death await him in Jerusalem. Paul thus is aware that he is speaking to the Ephesians for the last time, knowing he will never see them again.
Part of what moves me in this passage is imagining how hard I would have found it to be in Paul’s position. I find it difficult enough to say goodbye to close friends when I know several months may pass before I see them again. But to say goodbye knowing it is the last time your friends will throw their arms around you and kiss you (as the Ephesians did to Paul after they prayed together), let alone knowing you are headed toward likely death, how hard must that be?
But the other part of what moves me is Paul’s absolute clarity about what matters. “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.”
As I sat with the passage this morning, I had to acknowledge that I don’t always have that same clarity of vision. As committed as I am to my ministry and life in Christ, sometimes I get a little distracted and give importance to things that don’t deserve it. Sometimes my anxieties take time and energy away from what really matters. So I pray for the clarity and strength evidenced in Paul’s words today that I may “bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace” in all I do.