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A WORD FOR TODAY, March 17, 2023
“Now I Paul, myself, entreat you by the humility and gentleness of Christ, I who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. Yes, I beg you that I may not, when present, show courage with the confidence with which I intend to be bold against some, who consider us to be walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience when your obedience is made full.” 2 Corinthians 10:1-7, WEB
St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, but he wasn’t even Irish. He was born late in the fourth century as a Roman citizen in Britain. Irish raiders carried him away when he was a teenager to live in Ireland as a slave until he was able to escape on a boat to what is now France. He studied under St. Germanus and then returned to Britain to live with relatives. He had a vision of becoming a missionary to Ireland, to take Christ to those who had been his captors. He went back to France where St. Germanus finished his education, consecrated him, and sent him on his mission. He returned to the land of his captors and preached the Gospel to the people there. His preaching against the pagan religion was first met with resistance but he was eventually able to convert the high king. The rest of the Irish followed. He had a remarkable effect on the druidic people and many came to know Jesus Christ because of Patrick’s witness. He established a bishopric in Armagh and began a strong foundation for the Christian church in Ireland.
I once received an email offering the “true” story about Patrick driving the snakes from the shores of Ireland. This mailing came from a person who claimed to be a pagan. Stories about Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland abound. One says that Patrick beat a drum that caused all the snakes to dive into the sea. Another says that there was one ornery serpent that refused to go so Patrick made a box and told the serpent to get inside. The serpent claimed it was too small. Patrick was certain he would fit, so the serpent said he would prove it by getting inside. When the serpent was in the box, Patrick slammed the lid shut and threw the box into the sea.
Ireland never had snakes, so this story has no truth in it, or does it? According to that email, Christians used the snake as a symbol of paganism. Apparently the “snakes” driven from the shores were people, not animals, and that Patrick committed genocide to rid the island of the non-believers. The email claimed that many people died at the hands of Patrick. There is no record of genocide in the history of Ireland, but in a spiritual sense this claim may be very true.
“The Confession of St. Patrick” is his testimony. He wrote of his life in bondage, his escape, his training in missionary work, and his return to the land of his captors. After a few years, he heard a voice telling him to go to Britain, but the ship refused to take him. He prayed and the captain changed his mind. The ship was filled with pagan sailors, possibly slave traders. Patrick was with them on the ship for three days and then they spent 28 days roaming through deserted country. They grew hungry and weak. The pagans came to Patrick and asked why he would not pray to his God for them. Patrick answered, “Be truly converted with all your heart to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for Him, that this day He may send you food on your way until you be satisfied; for He has abundance everywhere.” Patrick wrote that by the help of God, a herd of pigs came and satisfied their hunger. Those pagans did suffer death: death to their own selves by faith in Jesus Christ.
Patrick was not the first missionary to be sent to that land, but he was by far the most successful, bringing thousands of people to faith in Christ Jesus. The nation was transformed, no longer trading slaves, or sacrificing humans. The people died to the old way of life but lived in Christ. So, the pagan writer was right: Patrick killed the pagans, not physically but spiritually. It wasn't genocide; it was the Gospel Jesus Christ. While the letter writer was mourning the death of his spiritual ancestors, we can rejoice for those who found true life in Christ because of St. Patrick.
In his confession, Patrick showed himself in true humility and obedience to God. He thought himself to be the least among his brethren, but spoke boldly about His Lord Jesus Christ and changed his little corner of the world. It seemed he was always surrounded by his enemies, trying to share God’s grace with people at first unwilling to accept the Word God sent to them through him. I wonder if he ever remembered the cruelty of his captivity and the injustice of his slavery. I wonder if he ever wished that he did not listen to the voices that sent him to places he did not want to go. Yet, through it all, Patrick held firm and obedient to his calling, doing what he could to share the message of forgiveness with those he needed to forgive. He remained faithful so that his enemies might come to know the love of God and be saved.
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