In today’s scripture readings, we read of Jesus and St Paul, who were coming to the end of their mission, taking stock of their lives and rendering an account to God for the task they were entrusted with. All of us one day too will have to give an account to God for the life that we live. We have been given the resources and talents to fulfill His mission in life. If we are to die a happy death, we need to be able to give an account for the way we made use of the resources the Lord has given to us for the growth of His kingdom.
The first thing we note about St Paul and Jesus is that they were focused on their mission. Paul said, “But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace.” Paul was a zealous missionary and apostle of Christ and the Good News. Having been given the grace of encountering the Risen Lord, he surrendered his entire life to the proclamation of the Good News, especially to the Gentiles. He wasted no time or energy on anything except to bear witness to the Good News.
Jesus too was totally focused on His mission. He said to His Father, “I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do.” From young He was concerned about doing His Father’s business. When He was found missing after the visit to Jerusalem, the parents found Him at the Temple and said, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Lk 2:48f) On another occasion, the Lord said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (Jn 4:34)
Both too gave their best to the mission entrusted to them. They were creative and proactive. Paul wrote, “I have not hesitated to do anything that would be helpful to you; I have preached to you, and instructed you both in public and in your homes, urging both Jews and Greeks to turn to God and to believe in our Lord Jesus.” Paul was never discouraged when he met with opposition. He would use every opportunity to preach the gospel. He was not afraid of death. When he was brought before the Sanhedrin, he took the occasion to unsettle and divide them and that got him the ticket to go to Rome eventually to proclaim the Good News. (cf Acts 22-25)
Jesus too was resourceful. When He was unwelcomed in the synagogue, He took the pulpit to the seashore, the hills and the fields. He spoke in the language of the people, using examples from daily life and parables. Thus, at the end of His life, He could truthfully claim, “I have made your name known to the men you took from the world to give me. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now at last they know that all you have given me comes indeed from you; for I have given them the teaching you gave to me, and they have truly accepted this, that I came from you, and have believed that it was you who sent me.”
Both Jesus and Paul accepted the trials of the apostolate as a necessary component in the proclamation of the gospel. They did not shy away from persecution. When Paul was beaten up by the Jews, he got up and returned to the city. Paul faced opposition both from within and without. Hence, he said, “I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.” There was no bitterness and revenge on his part but sadness that the gospel was rejected.
Indeed, Paul and Jesus never lived under the illusion that just because they were doing good things, they would be appreciated and be recognized. Indeed, many of us get jaded in ministry because we face opposition, criticisms and lack of appreciation. We expect the Church and the community to be thankful for our services. Instead of doing everything for the glory of God by persevering in doing what is good and right, we give up easily because of discouragement. However, for Paul, he was always ready to bear the cross. He wrote, “And now you see me a prisoner already in spirit; I am on my way to Jerusalem, but have no idea what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit, in town after town, has made it clear enough that imprisonment and persecution await me.” Jesus was fully aware of what was ahead for Him and His disciples. Instead of praying for His own safety, He was more worried and anxious for His disciples. “I pray for them; I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me, because they belong to you: all I have is yours and all you have is mine and in them I am glorified. I am not in the world any longer, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”
Both were conscious that it was not sufficient to preach the gospel but also to be the glory of God to others by living an exemplary life. The best form of preaching is not by words but by our life. No one will believe the shepherd, priest or lay leader if he or she does not live a life of charity and service. What we say about God and His love must be reflected in our own life if our words are to be believed. Paul was not only a great preacher but he was exemplary in his Christian life. He was sincere in living the gospel that he proclaimed. Thus, he could say with conviction, “You know what my way of life has been ever since the first day I set foot among you in Asia, how I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I have not hesitated to do anything that would be helpful to you.” He served humbly and carried his cross and sufferings especially from his fellow Jews with love. He did all he could for the Christians, giving all that he had for their greater good.
The whole life of Jesus was also lived in such a way that He glorified God by His life. This has always been the prayer of Jesus. “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you; and, through the power over all mankind that you have given him, let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him. And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus spent His entire life glorifying His Father by His words and deeds. He sought to make the love and name of His Father known.
Having lived their lives for God and humanity, both of them could end their life with a clear conscience, which is itself the reward of a well-lived life. This was what Paul said to the Christians, “And so here and now I swear that my conscience is clear as far as all of you are concerned, for I have without faltering put before you the whole of God’s purpose.” There is nothing that can give us real inner peace than to know that we have done all we could, giving our life for the service of our fellowmen, notwithstanding our limitations and the challenges we had to contend with. Having lived such a life, we have nothing to fear except to receive the rewards of eternal life. This was how Paul felt at the end of his missionary journey. “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8) So too, Jesus felt that way when He said to His Father. “Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me with the glory I had with you before ever the world was. I have made your name known to the men you took from the world to give me.” So with Jesus and Paul, let us entrust our lives to God knowing that He will be faithful to us. Paul knew that somehow God would protect Him. He had no idea what would happen to him, “except that the Holy Spirit, in town after town, has made it clear enough that imprisonment and persecution await me.”