To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will bring fruit from my work; yet I don’t know what I will choose. But I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Yet, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake. Paul to the Philippians, 1:21-24
I discovered an early case of his dilemma as I read St. Luke’s account of the First Missionary Journey of Paul and Barnabas.
They had reached Iconium back on the mainland after trekking across Cypress, the island homeland of Barnabas. They had aroused interest speaking to the mixed crowd of Jews and Greek “God fearers” at the Synagogue. That stirred jealousy from the local Jewish leaders. They bad-mouthed Paul and Barnabas to the local Greek citizens. (Acts 14:1-3)
When the same thing had happened in Perga, their last stop before Iconium, Paul and Barnabas quickly moved on. (It was there Paul announced to his fellow Jews that, since they weren’t interested in what he had to say, he and Barnabas would be turning their attention entirely to the Gentiles.) ( Acts 13:46) Luke notes that the two Apostles shook the dust off their feet as they left, the very sign Jesus had authorized. (Matthew 10:14)
Now, facing similar resistance in Iconium, Luke says that Paul and Barnabas chose to stay and keep meeting with the new believers there. Only when local officials threatened to stone the two men did they finally leave. (Acts 14:5, 6)
Stay or go? The question rattled around my brain all night.
Jesus spoke of building homes on rock so they could stand up when wind and floods came against it. (Luke 6:47-48, Matthew 7:24-25) Opposition was expected but the house was supposed to stay put.
As I thought about that, another image came to mind. Jesus told his disciples he was going to make them “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) I thought, fishermen have to go where the fish are. A fisherman could spend all day throwing his net perfectly. But if he was throwing the net over thorn bushes, he would only tear his net and ruin it. That would be a waste of time. You don’t find fish successfully where they are not. You don’t pick fruit that’s not ripe.
My thoughts turned to the parable Jesus told about sowing seed. (Matthew 13:1-10, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:1-8) For the seed to grow and produce a crop it had to stay put in the ground where it was placed. If there were stones or weeds in the way, they had to go. The gardener-sower didn’t need to stay. He just needed to make sure the seed was well placed and protected — covered — so it could root and grow up. Then the sower could move on.
That is the difference between seed and sower, I thought, between the time you stay in your house and the time you travel. Two different assignments. Two different seasons. The people doing each are together for awhile and then their assignments take them in different directions for awhile. There will be time to catch up with each other’s stories when it’s time to harvest.