Acts 20:17-27; Ps 68:10-11;20,21; Jn 17:1-11a
The flock has settled in a land restored. Those who followed The Apostle have seen and heard him bearing witness to the gospel of God’s grace. These have found the grace of God providing for their every need. They now witness the Spirit-led departure of Saint Paul who knows that none of those who hear him will ever see [his] face again. Jesus, too, hands over his fragile flock of disciples to the Father in prayer. His hour has come; Jesus must now leave his little ones to be lifted up in the glory. Both departures create anxiety for the flock of God, but this fear is overcome by the glory-a glory in which we share even while we await the Promise of power from on high. Indeed, we bless the God who bears our burdens! In God alone is our soul at rest for our Lord controls the passageways of death, and we have no fear.
Saint Paul has poured himself out among the people of Ephesus; as he confesses: “never did I shrink from telling you what was for your own good, or from teaching you in public or in private.” This apostolic witness has brought many Jews and Gentiles into the flock of the New People of God. This missionary achievement does not give Saint Paul permission to sit back and bask in his own glory. Rather, the Holy Spirit gently prods him on to Jerusalem toward a future of chains and hardships. Yet, Saint Paul does not run away from the ultimate witness of pouring out his blood if need be. In humble honesty the Apostle admits, “I put no value on my life if only I can finish my race and complete the service to which I have been assigned by the Lord Jesus.” According to the custom of the day though, Saint Paul makes a painful disclaimer. He refuses to take any blame for the weakness of his flock. If their faith is not complete, it is not his fault as he makes clear for I have never shrunk from announcing to you God’s design in its entirety.
Neither has the Lord Jesus shrunk from revealing the truth, yet he does not depart with any disclaimers. Perhaps Saint Paul’s fear of his flock’s failure rests in his own needs to be a success. Perhaps this departure brings out the shepherd’s fear more than it reveals any fear the flock may have. Or maybe this is just a rhetorical move on the part of Saint Paul to drive home, one final time, the absolute necessity of ongoing maturation in faith.
The departure of the Good Shepherd has already evoked great anxiety from his fragile flock. At this moment, however, the mutual glory of the Father and the Son nearly blinds the disciples more surely than any tears they may have shed. Jesus proclaims I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Then he prays, “give me glory at your side, a glory I had with you before the world began.” The Father is given glory because the disciples have come to know him the only true God and him you have sent, Jesus Christ. This glory is on earth, and it will sustain the flock even as The Shepherd leaves the world to come home to the Father and sit in glory at his right hand. Indeed, this glory has another name; this glory in heaven and on earth is also called the Holy Spirit. As it has already been revealed, unless the Son is lifted up on the cross and in the glory, unless he departs and returns to the Father, the Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, the Glory will not come down to lift up the fragile flock. In this Liturgy, this fragile flock prays: like a bountiful rain fall down upon us.