“In the meantime, the rest of us had gone on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos where we planned to pick up Paul. Paul wanted to walk there and so had made these arrangements earlier. Things went according to plan. We met him at Assos, took him on board, and sailed to Mitylene. The next day we put in opposite Chios, Samos a day later, and then Miletus. Paul had decided to bypass Ephesus so that he wouldn’t be held up in Asia province. He was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost, if at all possible.” Acts 20:13-16 (The Message).
For once things were going according to plan for Paul. He had set his sights on Jerusalem in time for Pentecost and he was well on his way to getting there on time. The weather favoured the sailors; he was accompanied by his dear friends and behind him was the result of his faithful labour for Jesus.
He was still a Jew at heart, with the memory of Jewish festivals deeply ingrained in him. He had spent the most part of his life among pagans, gathering in the harvest of souls for the kingdom of God from city to city with toil, hardship and suffering — imprisonment, beatings, stoning, walking thousands of miles, experiencing the rigors of heat, cold, hunger and loneliness, but he was not daunted because he was gathering experience no one could take from him.
Jerusalem was his goal, the centre of the Jewish world and the city of his own people. Like Jesus, Paul was on a determined course for Jerusalem but, unlike Jesus, he did not yet know what awaited him there. He had been the butt of Jewish hostility throughout his travels. Many times he had been forced to turn his back on them and give his attention to the Gentiles because they had rejected him and threatened his life. He had been hounded from one city to the next and often had to change plans to escape their murderous plots but he still loved them and longed for their favourable response to the good news.
“‘I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Romans 9:1-4a (NIV).
How could Paul say a thing like that when his own people had treated him so badly? Surely he must have held a grudge against them for the scars on his body and on his soul? Not at all! Paul, how could you be so forgiving and so caring in the face of all you have suffered at their hands?
Jesus uttered words on the cross that, if we would really take them to heart, would take the sting out of the things we suffer at the hands of others. “‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'” Luke 23:34 (NIV).
Like his Master, Paul realised that the way they treated him was just like the way he treated the believers before he met Jesus on the Damascus road, because he didn’t know what he was doing. Isn’t that true? Ignorance is not an excuse but often a reason for our foolish behaviour. If we really knew what the consequences of our words and actions would be, would we treat others the way we do?
One of the reasons why we withhold forgiveness from another is that we think we are better than he. What he has done to us we would never do to him. Really? We feel so outraged. How could he, she? But we forget that we are just as guilty because we are just as ignorant of the consequences.
Only a compassionate heart that really cared about the lives of those who hated him, could cause Paul to say, “‘I have great sorrow…'”