‘After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ”
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”’
There are few things that clarify life more than the prospect of death. If death appears like it might happen in the near future, that can make the life you live now, very different: You can begin to evaluate – from top to bottom – what life until this point has been like; you can take stock of all those things and people most precious to you; the door of regret can swing wide open: “I missed out on this, and that… That could have gone differently – better….”
Death can provoke the God-question(s): ‘Is there Someone more than just me, my friends, and family? How do I explain all the good things I’ve received, even when I’ve worked really hard for them? Who do I say “Thank you!” to when I consider the good things in my life?’
Death can put us front and center with the One who says: “It is appointed to humanity to die once, and after that the judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27) When death causes us to consider our lives, we experience the judgments Hebrews speaks of, in small measure. God draws near in those moments, and helps us to see our lives in all their majesty and meanness (Pascal).
That, though, is very different from what Paul experiences when Agabus tells him that he will die soon. Paul has already experienced a kind of death: Jesus met Paul, when Paul was dealing out death to others – when Paul was in the grips of spiritual death. The work that Jesus did in Paul’s life was to put him to ‘death’ and raise him to new life. Once Paul belonged to Jesus, his new life began.
And now, several years later, Agabus tells Paul that his natural life will end, soon. Paul’s reaction? Don’t weep for me. No regrets. The death I go to, is one planned by God and I will die for him. Yes, Paul is sad, but mainly because his brothers and sisters in the Faith, are sad. His confidence – his calm – is found in his family name: “… the name of the Lord Jesus.” Paul knows the family he belongs to – the One he belongs to, and will soon go to: the one Jesus called “Father”.
Where are you on this spectrum? Would the fear of death provoke only questions, regret, uncontrollable sadness? Or would you be able to say, with Paul, “I am ready…”?
Prayer: Father, death is terrifying. I sometimes don’t know why it has to be – why people have to die. So help me, Lord, to say Yes to you, and in saying Yes to begin to grow in confidence as a member of your Family. One day, I will die, and I want to be able to say with Paul: “I am ready…” Amen.