In our Scripture passage today we find ourselves with Paul, who is travelling from one Mediterranean port to another in attempting to reach Jerusalem before Pentecost in his continuing mission of spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles. He arrives at Tyre, but while staying with some Tyrian disciples, an odd thing happens. In verse four they tell Paul, “through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.” The Message translates it as, “Their message to Paul, given by the Spirit, was, ‘Don’t go to Jerusalem.’” While the instruction is understandable, what’s striking is that Paul chooses to ignore the declaration and carries on in his journey. I find myself asking, “Why would Paul disregard such a strong direction from the Spirit?” No explanation is given. Whatever the reason though, Paul aligns his obedience with the message that has resided in his heart from the beginning, rather than the one he hears that day and continues moving forward in mission. Was God testing him? We don’t know.
As humans, we can look but not actually see, talk but not actually speak and hear but not actually listen. Scripture exhorts us on the act of listening to God, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says.” My wife recently showed me a wonderful expansion on the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Shema”. Literally, it means to listen, but in its fullness, it means so much more. There is no precise word in Ancient Hebrew for “obey”, so when God speaks to his people in the Old Testament and desires them to not only to listen to him but to respond in a covenant of obedience, he uses the word, “Shema”.
Paul was faithful in the “Shema” of his covenanted service to Jesus, putting aside the life distractions around him and therefore bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. Jesus was faithful in the “Shema” of his covenanted journey to the cross, putting aside the many distractions before him and therefore bringing salvation to the world.
Our God is a covenant keeper, not a covenant breaker. Sometimes he allows distractions around us as a catalyst to reaffirm in our hearts and seek what he has actually called us to. Lent provides each of us with the sanctuary and respite to “Shema” with Jesus to this end. “My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart” (Prov. 4:20-21).