Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
I just read an article about good old St. Patrick. I learned that at the age of 16 he was captured and enslaved by Irish marauders as a shepherd. Prayer was his constant companion during those lonely times. After six years, he escaped and returned to Scotland. Eventually he went to France where he spent time in the monastery founded by St. Martin of Tours.
During his time at the monastery, Patrick had dreams in which the people of Ireland were calling him to return. He did. He went back to share his faith with the very people who had held him.
At the end of the article I read this quote: “As far as we know nobody in history had ever escaped from slavery and voluntarily returned to those who still owned him at great personal risk, loving them and telling them of the high God whom they had only dimly known,” said Rev. George Hunter of Asbury Theological Seminary. “He loved them, he cared for them and he redeemed them.”
With all due respect to the seminary professor, I disagree. Onesimus comes to mind. Read the incredibly short story in the letter to Philemon, right after Titus and right before Hebrews in the New Testament. Onesimus was a slave who escaped, just like Patrick. He encountered Paul in Rome and Paul sent him back to his former owner, Philemon. Had Onesimus not gone back, I doubt the letter would be preserved.
In any case, only God’s urging and the Spirit’s conviction could convince anyone to love and return to his captors to bring the gospel.
Malcolm Gladwell calls that kind of urging “a weapon of the spirit.” He saw it first-hand in the parents of a murdered teenager in Canada. They wanted to meet the murderer and share God’s love with him. It could also be called supernatural grace. Witnessing that kind of love changes people. It changed Malcolm Gladwell, who now claims renewed faith as a result of meeting this Canadian couple.
It changes all of us. When we realize how God came looking for us, to love and care for us, to redeem us through Jesus Christ, we are also changed. Philemon most likely was amazed that Onesimus returned. The Irish were no doubt surprised that Patrick returned.
If possible, on this day to honor Saint Patrick, can we look back to those who have hurt us with some of God’s amazing grace?