These are words of Jesus said to Saul before his conversion and the taking on of his new name, Paul. Paul shares these words when appearing before King Agrippa, the Herodian King serving under the Roman rule in Judea. The goads that Paul is referring to here are actually “oxgoads.” These are long sticks that a master would use with his oxen to guide them and move them along. They are designed to hurt the ox that tries to press against them and go in the opposite direction from that which the master desires. You might say the goads convict the ox of its disobedience. It’s an interesting image for a prisoner on trial to use when speaking to a king who is his judge.
Now, one might think it appropriate for someone on trial to use this image as a means of confessing his wrong actions and vowing to live according the laws from that point forth. Paul, however, is not talking about his conversion with Agrippa in order to apologize for his misbehavior in Herod Agrippa’s realm. No, he is telling Agrippa the story of his conversion as a means of turning the King toward the truth of the Gospel. As outrageous as it may seem, Paul is telling the King that he is “kicking against the goads” himself. Repentance and belief is the outcome the Apostle desires for the King that is standing over him in “judgment.”
I once heard it said of the Scriptures, that they have two main functions: 1. to tell you the truth and 2. to turn you to it. The Word of God is the Word of Truth and it is given as that revelation that will lead us to eternal life in the green pasture of God’s Kingdom. In other words, the Word is the goad in the hands of our master. Now, if we’re honest, the life against this Word is indeed hard. To turn away from the truth is to be in the unique pain of rebellion against the will of our Master. This is true for regular folk like us, Apostles like Paul, and it is true for kings like Agrippa. If, however, we will read God’s Word and see the truth there, and more than that, allow that same Word to turn us to that truth, we will live a life of peace and joy.
Now, what is that truth? It is the truth that God has shown mercy upon his people who are in rebellion. He has sent his Son to take upon himself the full penalty of that rebellion. Though he is guiltless, he has been declared guilty for our sake in order that we, the guilty party, might be justified before the ultimate judge. Now, to kick against this loving and merciful goad of the Gospel is very hard indeed. It is hard in this life and it is excruciating in the life to come.
Let us once again go to the Word and allow it to tell us the truth and to turn us to it.
[Coming Close is a regular blog by our Dean and Rector, The Very Rev. R. Peet Dickinson IV]