Commentary on Acts 20:28-38
Just to remind ourselves – we are still with Paul on his Third Missionary Journey. And today we have the second part of his farewell discourse to the elders of the church at Ephesus. In the first part Paul had spoken mainly about himself.
In today’s reading he begins by reminding them that they are to carry out the responsibility implied in their title. As ‘elders’ (presbyteroi) they are called to watch over the flock entrusted to them. They have been appointed ‘overseers’. The “elders” are called “overseers” (episkopoi, ‘episkopoi, from which come words like ‘bishop’ and ‘episcopal’) and told to pastor (“shepherd”) the flock – demonstrating that the same men could be called “elders”, “overseers” or “pastors” depending on how their role in the church was seen. This community is the “church of God”, acquired with his own blood. As God in himself does not spill blood, we can take it to mean that the work of the Father and of the Son are seen as one; what Jesus does, including the shedding of his blood, is an expression of everything his Father wills.
Paul envisages fierce attacks on the community after he has gone. “Savage wolves will come among you and they will not spare the flock.” Even from among themselves, people will arise who will “pervert the truth” and try to cause divisions among some of the Christians. So he begs them to take to heart all the teachings he gave them over a period of three years.
On the other hand, he is not in debt to them. He never asked for money or clothing from anyone. His needs and those of his companions were served by his own hands. This is something he has mentioned more than once with some pride and satisfaction. On the contrary his concerns have always been those who are weak and in need. And he quotes words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” A saying which, incidentally, is not quoted in any of the gospels but there must be many of Jesus’ sayings which did not get recorded in writing.
The passage concludes with the highly emotional departure scene with prayers and tears and much kissing and embracing. They believed they were never more to see the father of their church. In fact, they were to meet briefly once more.
There certainly is a good deal here for our own reflection. We have to be ready for our Christian communities today to come under attack, but hopefully without good reason. We have to admit, too, that there are often divisions among us and that we can twist the words of the Gospel to suit ourselves and our own interests.
We need to ask to what extent we really do take care of the weaker ones among us. We cannot separate the needs of the body from that of the spirit.