Summary: The honor we seek is the honor given to Jesus and St. Paul and all the other saints: Humility, tears and trials.
Tuesday of the 7th Week in Easter 2020
Do you remember the first time you did something exceptionally good, and your mom or dad noticed it and gave you a hug and told you “child, that was really wonderful”? Even if you don’t remember that exact moment, you can recall at least one time when something you did provoked honor or praise from someone you respected, and the feeling it provoked was really, really great. When someone thinks of the word “glory,” that’s the kind of experience we imagine. The feeling felt by the one honored or glorified is what fuels entertainment and sports and even a lot of politics, way more than the money people give. When we are glorified, we want more of the same.
Part of that desire comes from the unfulfilled feeling. Sure, getting an award or scoring the winning goal or making a big sale gives you a temporary high, but it can also leave a funny taste in your throat. It’s not enough to fill your life with joy that lasts any more than does a good meal. That’s because when God makes you, He makes you for union with Himself, and equips you with a basic desire to be divinized, to become one with the Blessed Trinity. So when Jesus, who is both true God and true human, says "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son,” He is praying for that fulfillment. But He prays this in His high priestly prayer at the Last Supper. He knows how His glorification, His enthronement will come about. He will be nailed to the throne of the cross, and lifted up with the cynically written but divine-inspired proclamation above His head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” On the cross He receives His glory with the utmost pain and humiliation, and He offers it to the Father so that now, two thousand years later, He can as always draw all humans to Himself, and through the water and blood flowing from His heart He can make us one with Him and one with each other.
How, then, can we, His disciples, attain our own glory. There is only one path, and it must be taken in union with Our Lord Jesus. It is the path of suffering. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was made perfect–complete–through suffering. That is the only path to union with the Trinity in the glory of God the Father, as we pray each Sunday in the Gloria in excelsis.
“Man, that’s not only hard, it’s impossible,” we probably say. Well, for ourselves alone, it is not possible. But in union with Christ, every pain, every illness, every panic, every bankruptcy, every enforced isolation is possible. To show us in every age that it is, we have the example of the saints like St. Paul, St. Peter, and all the apostles.
Here in the Acts of the Apostles, we see exemplified how Paul, in his own words, filled up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ. In the prior chapter we see Paul’s preaching of Jesus as Messiah and Lord stirring up commotions and riots and expulsion from a city. Paul had spent well over two years in Ephesus, the third city of the Roman world, one big enough even for an Imperial court. Paul’s ministry, and St. John’s, had led to an explosion of numbers in the churches of the city and the whole region around it. In our episode today, Paul has been in Greece and, either because of the hostility of the pagans or the eagerness of the Christians, he specifically avoids landing near Ephesus, and comes to the port of Miletus. He summons the presbyters he appointed from Ephesus and bids farewell. His address was recorded faithfully by the eyewitness, Luke, and is perhaps the most emotion-filled one in Acts. In fact, it in many ways recalls the farewell sermon of Jesus at the Last Supper.
What honor has his ministry brought Paul? Humility, tears and trials. What brought him these emblems of triumph? “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” What awaits Paul as he journeys to fulfill his vows in Jerusalem? Prophetic witness in city after city has told him that “imprisonment and afflictions” await him. And what is his response? It echoes again the words of Jesus: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Yeah, we are in the middle of a muddle right now, trying to avoid getting or transmitting a virus that has killed almost as many people as last year’s flu, and has wreaked havoc on the world’s economy. Trials and afflictions. We worship without singing and even without seeing each others’ faces. Some of us may be dead this day next year. But we should not account our lives of any value, or hold them precious to ourselves if we don’t continue to accomplish our courses and ministries, received from Jesus Christ, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.