THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL
(A biblical reflection on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul – 25 January 2016)
First Reading: Acts 22:3-16
Alternate First Reading: Acts 9:1-22; Psalms: Psalm 117:1-2; Gospel Reading: Mark 16:15-18
The Scripture Text
“I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. I persecuted the Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
“As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
“And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ (Acts 22:3-16 RSV)
When the people of first-century Jerusalem looked at Saul of Tarsus, they saw a man filled with unbridled spiritual ambition. Many of his fellow Pharisees must have looked at Saul with some suspicion. Was he just trying to climb the ladder and enhance his image? Was he too filled with anger and hatred to be an effective religious leader? Whatever their concerns, these other Pharisees also saw in Saul a valuable ally and tool in their goal of destroying the new and dangerous religious sect we now call Christianity. This is the man whom we honor today as a spiritual giant. So it stand to reason that if God can touch and use Saul of Tarsus, then there is hope for us!
What do we (you and I) see when we look in the mirror? What do other people see? More importantly, what does Jesus see? When the world looked at Simon Peter, they saw a hotheaded fisherman, but Jesus saw the “rock” for His Church. When the world looked at Saul, they saw an ambitious, aggressive, perhaps even violent man; but Jesus saw an apostle, a missionary, and a mystic.
If we want to know our full potentials, then we shall not listen to the limitations others impose on us. We must stop looking at the mirror and start looking to Jesus, in whom we can do all things. We must not let the devil discourage us with images of how far we have yet to go. We must not let the world intimidate us when we try to rise above the status quo. We also must not let our fallen nature win the war within each of us.
The people who were with Paul on the day of his conversion saw the light of Jesus but did not hear His voice. Jesus’ call is universal, but the response He demands is personal. Perhaps the question we should ask is not, “What is God calling me to do? But “Who is He calling me to be?” Paul put forth an intense effort in his Christian life, it is true. But above and beyond all of Paul’s effort was the grace and mercy of God. Who is God calling us to be? As generous a receiver of that grace as St. Paul himself was!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I give You my heart, my mind, my soul, and my strength. Fill me with zeal and perseverance. Like St. Paul, I want to be like You, dear Lord. Amen.
Jakarta, 25 January 2016 [Feast of the conversion of St. Paul]
A Christian Pilgrim