I Told You So

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 — Week of Proper 16, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 980)

Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)

1 Kings 3:1-15

Acts 27:9-26

Mark 14:1-11

I’ve never been to the Holy Land, so I can’t clearly picture the setting for most Biblical stories. I have, however, been stranded in a boat on the island of Crete during an October storm, just like Paul in today’s second reading. If only I had read this passage before my own misadventure!

Paul has been traveling to Rome under guard with several other prisoners . They’ve hitched a ride on a ship carrying grain to Italy, but unfavorable winds have slowed their journey. “The Fast” (Yom Kippur) has already passed, putting the date in late September or early October, and they’ve only reached the island of Crete.

Paul warns everyone that they shouldn’t carry on: “the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” But there are several reasons that the group doesn’t listen to Paul.

For starters, time is ticking: by November, winter storms would strand them in Crete until March. Also, why should they listen to a prisoner? The Roman official “paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship” than to Paul. And finally, Paul holds a minority position that makes the majority uncomfortable. Because they don’t want to spend winter in that particular harbor, “the majority was in favor of putting to sea from there.”

The sailors act quickly, listen to people with power, and go with the majority opinion to override Paul’s advice. However, “a violent wind” soon derails them. They take all kinds of measures to save their lives: hoisting the lifeboat onto the deck, strengthening the ship itself, throwing cargo overboard. The storm blocks the sun and stars for days on end, so they can’t even navigate or orient themselves. Even worse, “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”

So Paul gets to have an I-told-you-so moment: “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete.” But then, Paul does something remarkable. He alters his prediction.

Paul’s earlier warning claimed that they would lose their cargo, their ship, and their lives. Now, he has a new message: “I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” Be courageous. Rest assured. You will be saved. In other words, people who Paul thought would perish are, in fact, saved alongside him.

Human beings don’t always make the best decisions and judgments. My own trip to Crete was an unwise choice in itself! While studying abroad in Athens, some friends and I wanted to go to Crete for my birthday in October, even though the best travel season had passed. We ended up spending the night in a freezing cold ferry that could not leave Crete because of a storm, and we finally escaped on a turbulent airplane ride—the most frightened I have ever been for my life. My friend’s dad is a pastor, and he had his whole congregation praying for us when our plane left.

Of course, this trip ultimately strengthened both my faith and my friendships. Perhaps the Crete fiasco did the same for Paul and his companions. In all our adventures, today and always, may we journey toward the deep wisdom that listens to unlikely voices and stretches our message of salvation. The sea is so much wilder and wider than we can see from the shore.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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