We had not traveled the whole way to Crete to be intimidated by a few washed-out roads! Determined to cross the island to the south coast, Ellen and I rented a sturdy SUV and headed into the drenched central mountains. Our destination? A tiny harbor called Fair Havens where a merchant ship carrying the apostle Paul once anchored (Acts 27).
If we were tense driving mountain roads in stormy weather, how anxious must Paul have been when he arrived at Crete? The apostle was a prisoner, appealing his case to Nero’s court at Rome. His life was at stake. Further danger came from making such a sea journey late in the sailing season when storms could sink a ship.
Unlike modern sailboats with deep keels, ancient sailing vessels could not “beat” upwind. They only could run with or sail across the wind. Unfavorable conditions quickly could blow a wind-powered ship far off course.
Staying near land as long as possible, Paul’s ship had followed the coastline from Palestine up to southern Asia (modern Turkey). From there the vessel turned southwest until “with difficulty” it rounded the east end of Crete and continued along the south coast to the harbor at Fair Havens.
Ellen and I headed toward the harbor by land, crossing the central mountain range in cloud and mist. But as we crested Crete, the heavy weather broke, and the south coast came into view. Sunlight streamed down on Fair Havens!
When Paul arrived there, he told his captors that it was too dangerous to continue further. But the ship captain had a mind of his own, and insisted they at least sail to the west end of Crete for the winter.
When the boat weighed anchor, a violent northeaster caught them, blowing the ship far out into open waters. The only option was to continue westward and hope for the best. Paul had warned that “danger and much heavy loss” would accompany such a voyage.
Sometimes that’s what I want to say when I see polarization and partisan behavior in the church. Sometimes I sense danger and heavy loss ahead when my government ignores environmental warnings, cuts benefits for the poor, gives tax breaks to the rich, stokes racism, or aligns with dictators. I am not a prisoner, but I am along for the journey with my church and my country.
When Paul’s ship got into serious trouble at sea, he declared, “You should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete.” But the apostle did not linger long with “I told you so.” Instead, even as his vessel careened toward catastrophe, Paul as prisoner testified to the saving power of God. He encouraged fellow travelers and prayed with them. He so cared for the crew that they chose, apparently against standard pratice regarding prisoners, to spare his life rather than execute him when shipwreck became certain. Six hundred miles west of Fair Havens, after a torturous passage, the ship carrying Paul disintegrated on the coast of Malta.
Paul’s dilemma at Crete reminds me that difficult or dangerous circumstances sometimes are completely beyond my control. Then I remember, with Paul, that a loving and merciful God is sovereign. What will I do to show God’s love to fellow church members or fellow citizens if, God forbid, crisis and hardship follow in the wake of bad choices others have made? And who will mediate God’s grace to me when I make bad choices?
2017 J. Nelson Kraybill ****************************************
Come with my wife Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walk in Galilee and Jerusalem—an active tour accessible even to non-athletes like myself. Dates are May 14-25, 2018. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum. Details are still pending but we likely also will hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route, and more. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/