From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God's grace.
"And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
In today's readings we have some famous last words from Paul and from Jesus. Each states that the substance of his work is done. Paul must proceed to Jerusalem and hopes, if he survives the dangers in that city, to sail westward to Rome and bring the Gospel to Spain. Jesus says he has finished the work given to him by his heavenly Father and now prays: "Father, give me glory at your side." Paul offers parting advice about the duties of pastors and religious leaders; while Jesus prays for them and for all who will join them in times to come.
Both Paul's sermon and Jesus' prayer look to the future with calm faith and both candidly state that they have done their very best. Paul says plainly: "You know how I lived among you from the first day I came here, how I served the Lord with humility through the sorrows and trials that came my way." And Jesus affirms the identity of his friends: "Those whom you gave me were yours; they have kept your word." Paul faces a future of uncertainty, knowing that prison probably awaits him at Jerusalem. Jesus did not predict exactly what lies ahead; he would only pray that his followers remain faithful to his person and to his teaching.
Their situation was no different from that facing priests, religious and committed laity today. We too should face the uncertain future with faith and calmness. For when we finish the work given to us by the Father, God will take us to Himself.
For the next couple of days we will be reading from Our Lord's prayer during the Last Supper. He begins by praying for himself, "Father? glorify your Son." Jesus is aware that the path to glory is through the cross. His lifting up on the cross is the cause of his lifting up in glory. Jesus is ready to return to the Father from whom he came because, as he says in that prayer, "I have finished the work that you gave me to do." We all have some work to do while we are on this earth; we have all been given some sharing in the Lord's own life-giving work.
Hopefully there will come a day when, like Jesus, we can turn to God in prayer and say, "I have finished the work you gave me to do. Now, take me to yourself in glory." In the meantime, we try to be faithful to the Lord's work, to the mission that the Lord has given each of us, the mission to make the Lord known to others by the way we live. In the carrying out of that mission we are not left to our own devices. The Lord works with us and is praying for us. In today's gospel, having prayed for himself, the Lord prayed for his disciples, who are to be his witnesses in the world. That includes you and me. The Lord lives forever to intercede for all us, so that we may be faithful to the work he gives us. When we find it a struggle to pray for ourselves, we can be sure that the Lord is praying for us.