By David Baumann
Reading from Acts, 21:1-14
1 When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. 3We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. 5When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed 6and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day. 8The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. 10While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” 12When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”
I once had a parishioner who had a habit of coming to me now and then to inform me of a problem in the church. He was usually right about it, but he also wanted to give me the solution. There, he was almost always wrong. He didn’t have all the facts, didn’t understand the theological background of the situation, or was thoroughly unfamiliar with how other people felt and reasoned.
We find a similar situation in today’s lesson. Well-intentioned, loving people are given the prophecy that bad things await Paul when he gets to Jerusalem; but then they conclude that he shouldn’t go there. Paul alone knows that avoiding suffering or any kind of great opposition is not the default position for Christians. He alone knows that the prophecy is not, “Bad things are ahead, so change your plans”; rather, the prophecy is, “Bad things are ahead, so take courage and hold firm.”
Jesus taught his disciples many, many times that believers would suffer for their faith — even from members of their own families. He taught it as a normal and expected consequence of believing; he never said to try to avoid it. Avoiding it can be tantamount to shirking the faith. As we read in the letter to Hebrews, “My righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I will take no pleasure in him” (10:38). “Safety first” is not a Christian motto. The Lord leads us many times to places or situations of discomfort, challenge, enmity, or even danger. When we follow Paul’s example (not to mention Jesus’ teaching), we grow in sanctity and Christian heroism, and we become more truly Jesus’ own people, and therefore our true selves. Paul’s friends finally got it right when they concluded, “The Lord’s will be done.”
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 45 years, 39 of them in the Diocese of Los Angeles. He now serves as part-time priest in southern Illinois. He has published devotions, articles, and essays, as well as science fiction novels and short stories.
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