A reading, a reflection, and a prayer
Acts 21: 1 – 15
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. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We 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. We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When 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 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day. The 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. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He 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.”’ When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then 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.’ Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’ After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
The author of Acts had a good line in travelogues, full of breathless journeys and incidental details. The group were not hanging about on this journey towards Jerusalem, after a final farewell from the Elders of Ephesus at Miletus. If this was being written today it would be an online blog, complete with snaps of the harbour at Cos, Cyprus in the distance, and the whole church at Tyre waving them off. Some of the incidental details may seem a little puzzling today – why, for example, did the early audience for Acts need to know that Philip had four daughters, that they were unmarried, and that they had the gift of prophecy?
Paul’s travelling companions and the Christian communities who offer them hospitality are convinced that he should avoid going to Jerusalem, and try to persuade him to change his plans, but he is having none of it. He attracts and disperses followers as he goes along – this rolling stone gathers no moss.
There is a tremendous sense of energy, adventure, and intention in this passage, as in all Paul’s missionary journeys. The shorter his stay in a place the more detail seems to be included. Obstacles and delays become opportunities to meet with the faithful. Although his journey has a clear and pressing destination he will use every minute along the way to talk about Jesus, through conversations which seem to be more inwards and intimate than previously – last words to dearly beloved believers and bread-sharers rather than public disputes and philosophical speeches. They all say “don’t go”. He goes. Because that is what he had to do, and just possibly he realised that the only way to reach Rome was to go through Jerusalem.
Beckoning, compelling God
when we are on the Way with you
teach us to use our time wisely
to observe details
to have the humility to rely on hospitality offered
to be open to conversations worth having
and to pray aptly.
And if following you should bring us to a time of trial
help us to face this calmly, trusting that
your will be done. Amen