The story of the conversion of St Paul is a familiar tale. Paul – known by his Jewish name of Saul – is persecuting the disciples of Jesus. He’s a man with a mission, ‘breathing threats and murder against the disciples’. He’s actively going out of his way to find them. He wants to know which synagogues they belong to and bring them to Jerusalem to be killed. He wants to be rid of all the followers of the Way. The term ‘the Way’ recurs in Acts but is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. It represents a very early understanding of the Christian community as following the way of life and light, the example of Jesus Christ that leads to God. Saul is trying to extinguish the light. He is using every means at his disposal to stamp out the life of the early Christian church.
But God has other ideas. The story of Paul’s conversion is one of radical transformation. He is changed from persecutor to proclaimer of the gospel. Saul is blinded by a bright light and hears a voice from heaven: ‘I am Jesus who you are persecuting.’ Jesus of Nazareth is identified with his church. He is present in the suffering of his followers, then and now. Saul who has done his best to extinguish the light of Christ through persecuting the body of Christ, is blinded. The dazzling light brings darkness. Paul cannot see a thing and is led into Damascus. He acknowledges his own need and learns to see again. God forgives Saul for all that he has done wrong. His sight is restored and he commits himself to following the Way of Christ.
For those of us who have been Christians for a while, the challenge of Paul’s conversion is exactly this: to look at the world afresh through the eyes of Christ. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ is to bring new life, hope and vision we, like Paul, have to acknowledge our need of God and see again.
Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector