In Acts 20:28 we see that Paul, out of concern for difficulties has heard about in Ephesus, has called the presbyters from Ephesus to a meeting with him at the port city of Miletus where he is about to set sail for Jerusalem. He is worried for them and is giving them his last instructions, for he believes that he will never see them again.
Paul is telling the presbyters from Ephesus that they will have many challenges after he leaves. Paul’s charismatic presence has had a lot to do with the stability of the church to this point, but Paul cannot be there forever. He has worked hard, with his own hands to raise up the first shoots of the Church. He reminds them of his total dedication to the gospel, and encourages them to behave in the same way. He reminds them as well that all this was done through the hard work of his own hands, that he never wanted their silver or gold, that his concern has always been for the weak, those who were left out, or left behind and, therefore, that should also be their concern.
His most important message to them is that, when he is gone, they must be true shepherds to their flocks, not just any flocks, but those flocks that were given to them by the Holy Spirit. Paul warns them so because he knows that when he is gone, “savage wolves will come among you and they will not spare the flock.” (verse 29) This remains true today. The forces of evil are always at odds with the Church over which Christ alone is the head. They despise the love and the mercy of Christ. They wish nothing less than to destroy the Church and to devour its flocks. And they will most often come wearing sheep’s clothing, appearing to be innocent, with honeyed words in their mouths. They are, after all, in competition with Jesus so they must make an appearance that seems to be as attractive, as compelling as Jesus.
But there is a less subtle type that Paul warns them about as well. They are those who, for reasons of the shallow ego, wish to have the power of the shepherd, to be used for their own selfish gain. These, Paul warns, will arise from within the Church community. They will “pervert the truth to draw disciples away after them.” This has indeed been happening to the Church from Paul’s time to the present. We can only wonder how many of those presbyters from Ephesus, were already facing these challenges, or seeing these types arising among them. To be a presbyter involves awesome responsibilities. These monumental responsibilities cannot be maintained without a deep prayer life, a humble, sincere relationship with Jesus Christ. The “shepherds” have many things to be aware of concerning their flocks, but if Jesus Christ and his gospel are the central focus of the presbyters lives, and not ephemeral, earthly things, like money or power, if they remain servants of God alone, the Holy Spirit will remain true and effective with such shepherds. They will be able to protect their flocks from the wolves and the pretenders that arise among them.
Lord, we pray for all of our pastors. Give them a love for you that gives way to nothing else. Give them the knowledge, the graces, and the courageous faith to be our good shepherds, protecting us from all those who wish us harm or who wish to lead us away from you. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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