Paul in the first reading is leaving the Church of Ephesus, and he’s worried about what will happen to it and the people after he is gone. He knows that he has been there for three years and he has worked with the people and kept them on path, but when he leaves, who will lead them? Who will keep them on the straight and narrow? When a group has a strong leader and rallies behind that leader, it’s easy to stay on task. When that leader goes, who do the people follow? At that point it’s easy for someone else to come in and take the reins. If that person is on the same track, good, but it’s also easy for the newly leaderless people to be lead astray. Paul worries that these people will be swayed by evilness, but also that his own words will be twisted. When someone is gone, it’s easy to forget what he said, or even think you remember, but you don’t get it just right. Like the game of “telephone” when a whispered sentence gets to the end of the line very different from how it started. Paul hopes he has started the people on a good path that they will be able to follow even after he is gone.
As a teacher, I hope my students get the benefit of my words and can use the information from my class even after the semester is over. I hope they get what they need from my class and can use it in the future. But I also know that they don’t always get it right. I see in exams my own lecture points twisted into something barely recognizable to me. I can’t go with them into the rest of their school life or into the world, so I have to hope they understand the information and use it well. Parents too have to give their children the best start they can, and then let them go into their own lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus is dealing with the same situation. He came and taught and tried to set his people on the right track, but he couldn’t stay on earth forever and trusts that we will now follow his path. He prays that his followers not be swayed by evil and that they will take his words as a true guide and not pervert their intention.