Day 305 “Person to Person” Acts 21 – 23
November 1, 2021, 11:53 AM

Day 305 “Person to Person” Acts 21 – 23

We can say a lot of things about Paul, and he is a polarizing person in our own contemporary culture still, but we cannot deny his deep commitment and conviction that Jesus was (and is!) the Messiah for whom the Jews had waited. The chapters we read today detail Paul’s journey to Jerusalem and the events that unfolded after he arrived. Even the boat trips to get to these places makes me feel uncomfortable. Paul did not ride on cruise ships with all the modern conveniences or safety features. A cargo ship two thousand years ago could not have offered much in the way of anything we might recognize as acceptable. Every boat trip represented a question mark about whether or not that boat would be able to navigate the rough seas, find its way to the port, and arrive without catastrophic experiences in one way or another.

By itself, these trips tell me more about Paul, and give me much to admire. I don’t know that I would like him, to be honest. And now I am suddenly interested in thinking about this. While Paul did not expect the converts to Christianity, or the Way, to adhere to Mosaic (Jewish) laws, he had a strictness that would certainly clash with me. I’m not simply talking about his stances on women in ministry or gender questions—those are complicated questions that we will deal with in his later epistles (letters). I wonder if my expansive way of welcoming people, if my attitude about membership in the church having a pretty low threshold, and my desire to allow people to simply dip a toe into faith without judgment might all be, to use an old word, anathema to Paul. I wonder if my joy would clash with his agenda, if my frivolous conversations with people would absolutely seem a waste of time to our friend Paul.

Yet none of what I am doing today is possible without Paul’s incredible work thousands of years ago, without his single-minded devotion to Jesus and the message of the cross and the resurrection, without his sacrifice.

That’s what I see today, the sacrifice. The commitment. The devotion. The lack of anxiety about his own personal safety, Paul’s single-minded purpose. Alistair just said, as we sit in the nook talking, that Paul was a Zealot before his conversion, and he was a Zealot after his conversion. There were aspects of Paul that would be impossible to live with, I believe, because he could not shake his sense of mission for Christ. Everything Paul learned, everything he practiced, everything he said was applied to the mission of preaching Christ to the people.

Paul was not without the ability to compromise, as we see in his meeting with James in chapter 21: 17-26. Paul agrees to comply with the rules of purification, which was a Jewish practice, in order to become more united with them. Note that when Paul arrives, he speaks only of his work with the Gentiles (non-Jews) and James speaks only of the Jews. The two men certainly had tension between them, but Paul agreed to complete the 30 days of purification in order to show the Jews that he still and could abide by their laws and practices.

Perhaps God had Paul undergo purification because of the beatings, arrests, trials and travels that were to follow. For those who fast, the sense of preparation and cleansing that occurs during the process often gives strength to the rest of the journey that follows. This would have been the case for Paul. Fasting creates a greater purpose and much deeper dependence on God, and Paul would have been well-practiced.

With all of this, and the respect I have for Paul as a result, I have to be honest that Mother Teresa’s comments will most stay with me today. She writes in our contemplation: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things. To us what matters is an individual. I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment...Your love for Christ must be great,” (1313). Notice that Mother Teresa never says “I”, but always “we”. Even that simple pronoun shift changes my way of seeing things in the world. Where is my “we”? Who is “us”?

So, for all that, we can’t see each individual drop in the ocean, but we know that each one is there, part of the greater whole created by God. We can’t take out that one drop, or hold it or own it. We can’t even be in complete control of our own little crystalline drop in the ocean. But we can know, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews that we are  “Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, [so] let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” (12:1).

Paul is part of our ocean, as is James, and all who become part of this grand journey of the Way. Read with your minds, but also with your hearts and your compassion. God is not presenting perfect people to us, but the saints who are just like us in so many ways.

Let me end with my favorite quote about the Saints on this All Saints’ Day. This applies to Paul, and to you and me and all who are looking towards heaven with hope:

“The wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical or testy or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.”

Phyllis McGinley

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,









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