Unanswered prayers? – Saturday, 5th Week of Easter – ACTS 16:1-10

Unanswered prayers?   – Saturday, 5th Week of Easter  – ACTS 16:1-10

The council of Jerusalem was a game changer. Paul and Barnabas have not only been vindicated but have been given a mandate with human testimonials to back this mandate. Silas and Barsabbas are to accompany the two back to Antioch as a sign and seal of apostolic mandate.

We know that this decision to evangelize the Gentiles did not go down well with the Judaizers. They will continue to follow Paul and disrupt his mission sowing seeds of doubt and dissension. But Paul had another challenge to face. No sooner did Paul and Barnabas receive the mandate to go back to Antioch than a disagreement erupted between the two. (15: 36-41) At the heart of this disagreement was the evangelist Mark, a cousin of Barnabas who had earlier parted ways with Paul and had returned to Jerusalem. While Barnabas wanted Mark to accompany them back to Antioch, Paul would have nothing to do with “this deserter”.  Christianity faced a temporary setback as Barnabas and Mark part ways going to Cyprus while Paul and Silas head to South Galatia.

Having arrived in Derbe and then Lystra, towns he had evangelized on his first missionary journey, Paul comes across Timothy, “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but whose father was a Greek” (16:1).  A marriage such as this was considered illegal according to Deuteronomy 7:3. However if the mother was a Jew then the offspring was also Jewish. We are also told that Timothy, whom Paul wanted as an evangelizing companion, was a believer. One cannot understand why Paul who was mandated by the council of Jerusalem (15:5-11) to dispense with circumcision for the Gentiles would have a believer in the Lord circumcised. While compromise may not necessarily be held negatively this action almost seemed to be done to please the Judaizers. I wonder what would have happened if Paul simply held his ground?

Now Paul and his companions head north. It becomes clear that Paul has his eyes on Ephesus, the capital of a province of Asia (read modern day Turkey or Asia Minor.  He wants to go east but divine guidance pushes him west, to Macedonia in Europe. The hundreds of miles on foot seem to be covered in four verses to highlight that the focus of the Holy Spirit is to push them to where he wants the Church to grow and not where they want to go.

Twice we are told (verse 6 and 8) that they are forbidden to head into Asia Minor though later Paul will return to plant the Church in Ephesus and write an Epistle to them. For now, they had to deal with the spirit of God blowing them westwards. One can’t even begin to imagine the inner turmoil that Paul must have faced. We are not told specifically how he was prevented from going east but we certainly know that the Holy Spirit prevailed. Paul finally arrives at the port city of Troas, thirty kilometers south of the famous city of Troy. This port city which had a man-made harbour was founded by Antigonus in the fourth century. From here Paul and his companions would sail the Aegean sea to reach Macedonia on his second missionary journey.

What can we learn from Paul? Paul did not focus on the journey but on the Lord who was leading the journey. Perhaps the journey of our life would better be served if we allowed ourselves to be led. If the Lord is my shepherd, then following him will only lead us to green pastures.

Paul’s loyalty to the Lord is also unquestionable. His whole life has been to listen to the promptings of the spirit. He wanted to go east; the Lord sends him west. He was Asia bound; now he has to head off to Europe. So don’t feel despondent every time you feel a spanner has been thrown into the works of your life; each time your prayer seems to be unanswered and you find yourself going in the opposite direction. He has a plan!

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.  

Fr Warner D’Souza

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