but I went away at once into Arabia
Why does Paul go to Arabia? Where is Arabia? What does this mean? Elijah, after his battle with the prophets of Baal, and the threat to his life by Queen Jezebel, goes to Mount Horeb to hide. He feels alone, abandoned, hopeless. The call of God is too great. Even successes are failures. Mount Horeb is in Arabia. Arabia is the place of the alone, the abandoned, the hopeless, the least.
Luke tells us that Paul is confronted by the risen Christ on the way to Damascus. Let’s think about who confronted Paul. Jesus, the one who left the city gates to go among the lepers, and to touch them. The one who ventured into the enemy land of the Samaritans, the dangerous others. The one who protected prostitutes, healed the blind, walked with the sick and diseased. The one who told stories about seeking the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, about welcoming the lost brother. Jesus went to the alone, the abandoned, the hopeless, the least.
But Jesus did not just go to them, Jesus became one of them. At his arrest and trial, Jesus become the ultimate outsider. The Judeans who had followed and hoped in him, abandoned him and called for his death, His disciples betrayed and abandoned him, the Roman’s wouldn’t protect him, they assassinated him. He becomes the forsaken one.
Paul’s experience, regardless of how or where it happened, was an experience in which he is confronted by one of the forsaken, the ultimately forsaken one. Luke tells us that Jesus’ words are ‘why do you persecute me?‘ The risen Christ gives voice to the voiceless. He confronts Paul with the reality of his behavior, which is not guarding a tradition or fulfilling God’s will, but persecuting the forsaken.
But not only is Paul confronted by the forsaken, he is called to join the forsaken. Look at how will describe his life, later, after this call; far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;* 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
Paul goes to Arabia. It is the place where the lost, the abandoned go. It is also the place where those called to join them go to listen for the voice of God. Which is a radical shift in how we think about faith. It is a journey to the forsaken, to serve and give voice on their behalf, because this is where Christ is. Church is our Mt. Horeb... a launching platform to a journey among the forsaken