Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Conversion of St. Paul

I just noticed on my calendar is the festival of the Conversion of St. Paul. For those of you who don't know, Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee among Pharisees. These were people who devoured scripture and literally lived it. They were keepers of tradition and interpretation of the Torah or God's divine teaching. The Pharisees had a lot of trouble with a man named Yeshua (Jesus) who came from Nazareth. Theologically they were probably not far away from each other, but Yeshua lacked credentials and spoke with an authority that did not derive from any tradition source.

After the death, and as Christians claim, resurrection of Yeshua, people began to proclaim him as God's long promised Messiah. The Pharisees wanted no part of this and Saul was one who was a leader. He apparently was very important in the stoning of the Deacon Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saul got permission from the leaders to go to Damascus and round up any of these followers that he found. On his way there he had a vision of Yeshua and that threw Saul into a quandary. If Yeshua was truly risen from the dead, then God was acting differently then he expected, which meant he was wrong.

Saul lost his sight and spent a long time praying until a Christian named Annanias came and laid his hands on him restoring his sight. Saul was then baptized and then spent much time among believers learning the faith. This man became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who pushed the faith well beyond where anyone thought it could go.

I see two important things in this story. The first of which is Saul's willingness to change. His life was on a fairly certain path and likely one that would have brought him riches, comfort and respect. Yet when he realized that he was on the wrong path he abruptly changed his course in life and took on a life that rewarded him with poverty, jail time and public scorn. How many of us are willing to admit that we are wrong much less make such a 180 in our lives?

The bigger story here is the God that we meet. Too often we create our own god who loves us and hates what we hate. This is idolatry. But here is a God who goes into the camp of those who are fighting against him to recruit his advocates. That is grace. I don't hear very much about this God in the public sphere. I hear of a god who hates homosexuals or judgmental people. I hear of a god who hates liberal or conservatives. Our god that many of us worship simply confirms what we believe and that's why I spell it with a small g. The God who recruited Saul even loves those who don't love him. If this is the true God, then we have much to be thankful for and much to do so that people may know this new life.

As always tell me what you think.

1 comment:

  1. One of my favorite paintings is of this. Of course I can't remember the artist or the title of the painting... That would be The Conversion of Saul by Caravaggio. Google Images to the rescue.