Kicking Pricks and Taking Names
Israel was full of places where tradition, or good guessers, claimed that some biblical event happened. Then, there were sites that were archaeological and firmly verified. One of my favorite places was not an archaeological site, but was a road where there is no doubt Jesus walked. It is the road that connects Nazareth to Galilee; thus, a road that Jesus would have walked often, perhaps with his disciples at his side. It is known as the Valley of Doves, is about 65 kilometers in length, and takes 4 days to walk. As you can tell by the photos, it is an astounding view!
Before we begin the trail, apparently our tour guide warned us that the road is surrounded by small thorny plants. These plants, he warned, would would hurt those of us wearing sandals. Needless to say, I did not hear his warning fully. Once we were on the trail, I was so in awe of my surroundings, I started to step off the path to get a good photo. Ouch! That’s right folks, my walking off the path ended with me pulling pricks out of the ends of my toes where I had kicked them.
A little while later my mind went to the words of the resurrected Jesus when he appeared to Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14 KJV). I am familiar with the commonly accepted understanding that Jesus was referring to a prod used to train oxen, but I’d like to offer an alternative. This is my blog, not an academic paper, so I freely take my liberty here.
With my toes throbbing, and my lesson learned, it occurred to me that if one wanted to forge another path in this valley, he or she would have to be prepared to kick against some pricks. Growing up it was a pastime for us boys to go out into the woods and “build paths.” We would march ahead wielding sticks to swing as we cleared out the vegetation around us. Enough stomping the ground and swinging the stick would create a pretty good path in our woods. But in Israel, in the first century, sandal wearing folk would have to strongly consider the consequences of building paths in some places. Could it be that Jesus was citing Saul’s deep fears of the pain that comes when one is called to forge a new path? Perhaps Jesus, who knew this road all too well, was preparing soon-to-be Paul for what kind of future awaited him. Saul would come to know this all too well:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-28 NKJV).
It is painful to walk a new path. It is particularly painful to try and forge new paths in an ancient and well established tradition such as Christianity. Just like in Saul’s life, to walk outside the path that religious folk expected you to walk in meant that you would encounter some pricks (the double entendre was not intentional, but hey, it works), and they will cause you pain . What’s worse, the pain will come from those who claimed to love you the most– that is, as long as you walked on their paths. This is a hard lesson that comes with great heartbreak. It is something I have been going through for a while now, and am just now coming to terms with what it all means. In the end, I hope that I can hear the words of Jesus and respond like Saul. And, I hope there are others like me. God’s Spirit is wild and always on the move. There are paths we have not trodden yet. There are old paths, that are now overgrown due the absence of Christians regularly walking them. I wonder who will “build paths” with me? Right now, the volunteers seem few.