Readings: Acts 20:28-38; Psalm 68; John 17:11b-19
There are striking similarities between the two texts read at Mass today. They are both farewell speeches that have turned into prayers. Paul takes leave of the presbyters (elders, later 'priests') of the Church of Ephesus. He speaks of grace and the gift of the Spirit who has appointed them overseers (episkopoi, later 'bishops') of the flock.
Jesus continues to pray in John 17 for the apostles and for those who believe in him through their preaching.
In both cases there is sadness at parting and in both cases also a certain reserve, even more, a warning, about 'the world'. Experience informs both texts that the Lord Jesus and those who follow His way are vulnerable to various kinds of attack. Paul warns his listeners about 'savage wolves' who will not spare the flock. He is referring to people from within the community who will pervert the truth and seek to lead them astray.
Jesus speaks in similar terms: the world has hated his disciples, he says, because they are the bearers of the Father's word, like him witnesses to the truth, and they do not belong to the world. He prays not that the Father will take them out of the world, but that he will protect them from the evil one. The evil one is also the 'father of lies'. The contrast is between a community living by the truth and a society built on lies.
'It is more blessed to give than to receive' is a saying Paul attributes to Jesus. He commends the leaders of the Church of Ephesis to God and to the word of his grace (a phrase that recalls the reactions of the crowd to Jesus' preaching at the synagogue in Nazareth, all wondering at his 'gracious words').
And both texts end with a reference to consecration, being made holy in the service of God in the world. We tend to react to any kind of exclusivity these days but there it is. 'Consecrate them in the truth', Jesus prays, make them holy in the truth as I made myself holy - set myself apart, dedicated myself - in the truth.
The contrast is underlined, between a life in truth which means justice, honour and love, and a life flawed or even corrupted by lies which means confusion, dishonour and ultimately hatred. The promised Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. The prince of this world is judged. Jesus has overcome the world. It does not mean the disciples are spared. In fact it means that they will excite and attract the anger and hatred of those who prefer the darkness to the light. Jesus in his agony, and Paul in his weeping at Miletus, were seeing the ways in which the ones they loved would be asked to suffer.