Men loitered here and there on along the waterfront. Doubtless most worked on ships or loading vessels, though of what make and size I could not say. I might have inquired of of the men where I might find a vessel bound for Seleucia Pieria, but most seemed glum or so interested in their own affairs that I dared not interrupt.
Lacking the courage to look them in the eye, I passed by in much the same way I had the relative of Jesus when first I spied him. Dressed in a garment made of camel’s hair and synched tight around his waste with a leather belt, John struck me as someone to be avoided. Dare I say mad. Though his pronouncements of coming judgement aligned with the writings of the Prophets, his preference for locusts and wild honey seemed an odd diet of nourishment.
Not that others agreed with my assessment, for John’s call to repentance drew many from Jerusalem, and even more from Judaea. In the river John baptized those who confessed their sins. He would then urge them to repent and sternly warn them against committing such sins again.
“I baptize you with water for repentance,” he would declare. “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.”
With this pronouncement, John would lead “sinners” into the river, shoving them under and declaring their sins washed away. With great exuberance he would walk the individual back onto the river bank, all the while praising the Lord our God.
Quoting from the writings of Malachi, John would call out, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” (Malachi 3:1)
At other times he quoted from the prophet Isaiah. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” (Isaiah 40:3)
But on the day after I abandoned Paul and Barnabas, as I walked the waterfront in search of a vessel to take me home, I realized I myself had not properly prepared my way. Perhaps I had acted too hastily when I had agreed to join Paul and Barnabas. Had I sought the Lord in prayer with more fervor, would my course have turned out differently?
That I wondered while I stood along the shore, recalling the words of King Solomon. “In all your ways submit to him, our Lord God, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:6)
Dropping to my knees, I prayed, “Oh Lord, have I not submitted to you? Was I not obedient? Is this why my path is not straight, your plans for me unclear?”
With thoughts of doubts swirling in my mind and trembling with fear I waded into the water. When at last small waves broke against my chest, I slipped under. “Forgive me, Lord, for confusing my calling for your sending. Wash away my sins. Oh my God, save me.”
Back on the beach, wet, tears filling my eyes, I tried to bolster my drooping spirits by recounting how I had already proved I could take care of myself alone. But it was of no use. I could not muster the encouragement to continue my search for a vessel bound for home.
Hungry, having had no food since the evening before, and then only a few handfuls of bread and meat, I walked the alleyways in search of some place I might grab a bite.
From the end of the alley a scantly clad woman beckoned me from the doorway of a ramshackle home. “Let all who are simple come into my house! Stolen water is sweet. Food eaten in secret is delicious!”
“To those who have no sense,” a nearby shop keeper whispered to me, “she calls out to those who pass by. Little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead. Best go straight on yer way. A lad of understanding like yourself walks straight. On a straight path you will not stumble.”
“Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed,” the woman continued saying to me. “Leave your simple ways and you will live. Walk in the way of insight.”
“You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you woman of the devil,” the man replied. “You enemy of all righteousness. Will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” Fixing his gaze on me, he said, “Walk on, mate. If you value your future and life, walk on.”
In that moment the man’s words resonated with my spirit. I fingered the few coins in my pocket and decided to heed his advice. Perhaps I would have better luck finding a cheap meal at a taberna.
Backing away from the alley, I turned the corner and continued to make my way through the streets of Antalya.