In this final week of Easter, we find ourselves in this “in-between” moment. A moment between Ascension and Pentecost. What can we make of this time?
We come to the third journey of Saint Paul. Today, we hear of his farewell to the Christian presbyters of Ephesus, where the majority of his third mission took place. In order to appreciate his farewell before heading to Jerusalem and ultimately to Rome, we have to dig a little to understand the world of Ephesus.
So a little on Ephesus. Ephesus was the residence of the governor of the province of Asia and it was the fourth largest city in the empire. It was the location of the famous temple attributed to the goddess Artemis. She was the goddess of fertility. If you excavate one of her statues, you will find that she is adorned by what many scholars believe to be an abundance of breasts and other scholars believe it to be the testicle of bulls. Her dress is adorned with lions, leopards, goats, griffins, and bulls, which represent Artemis’ title of Lady of the Animals. People such as Demetrius who is mentioned in Acts 19, exploited the worship to Artemis by creating and selling miniature shrines to Artemis and sold them to the people in the public square. So this is where we find ourselves in today’s reading.
While the people of Ephesus worshipped Artemis, the Goddess of fertility and life, Paul preached how God came to all people through another woman, a virgin. Ironically, Ephesus is the land of exile where the Beloved Disciple cared for the Blessed Virgin Mary before her Assumption. Furthermore, it was in Ephesus that the Council defined Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God in 431 AD. This is a perfect example of how the Church spoke through the culture in understanding the faith.
Paul’s speech today is a firm reminder of how the Christian message of the Resurrection always speak to the culture, calling the culture to change.
The Christian message is not a money making business. Many of the Ephesians during Paul’s time made the accusation that Christians were stealing from the pagan temples. Rather, the Christian message collects no personal income from new disciples. The Christian message was something more radical. It infuses life to those who are dead and continues to do what the earliest Jerusalem community did during the time of Moses – support the poor. This was Paul’s manner of instilling the desire to love Jesus by caring for each other.
In my own growth as a Christian disciple, I’ve learned that I do not have to try to make Jesus attractive, I’ve learned that I do not need to try to sell Jesus to others. What I must do is strive for holiness and instill the desire for Jesus. Once we allow people to desire Jesus, everything else falls in place in God’s time. We do what Mary throughout her life and in Ephesus has always done – point others to him.
So in this “in-between” moment of the Ascension and the Pentecost event, in this moment of good-byes, in this moment in which we wait for the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, take courage, Christ has conquered the world and has endowed us with a love that is stronger than death. We come to be intimately united with him in Eucharist. As we do so, let Paul’s words be be our own:
“I consider life of no importance to me,
if only I may finish my course
and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,
to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).