17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)
Paul: From Persecutor of Christians to Author of most of the New Testament
I’ve made it over a year in this project and have only mentioned Paul – aka the Saul of this passage – three times in passing. It’s time to remedy that. Paul’s importance cannot be overstated. He has been definitively named as the author of seven out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Traditions over the centuries have linked him to thirteen out of the twenty-seven books. Even in some of the letters where his authorship is highly doubtful, it is often accepted that the actual author was a follower of Paul, influenced by Paul’s teachings. Like I said, it’s time we gave the guy some attention.
As as alluded to here in the beginning of today’s chapter (and directly described in chapter seven of Acts), Paul actively persecuted early Christians before this divine intervention on the road to Damascus. Remember, saying that Jesus was the Son of God and Messiah was radical to the point of heretical, a threat to not only Jewish but also Roman authority, and therefore a punishable offense through multiple avenues. Paul was a man quashing rebellion and upholding the society of which he was a part, yet he became God’s chosen instrument.
God’s Chosen Instruments are often new and strange people.
God’s chosen instruments are some interesting people. Abraham was a 100 year old man with a ninety year old wife, promised descendants more numerous than the stars after decades of being unable to conceive. Jacob was a trickster who cheated his brother out of his rightful inheritance. Jesus chose the socially undesirables of the time – tax collectors and prostitutes – to be among his closest friends and carry on his message. Now here comes Paul, hater of all things Jesus becoming one of the biggest missionaries in Jesus’ name. Despite their shortcomings, maybe because of their shortcomings, God chose all of them.
I think that’s an important message to remember when we see something going on in Jesus’ name that isn’t appropriately “church-y” enough for us. I’m not saying throw out all your beliefs and traditions every time something new and strange comes along, but do pay attention to it. Social changes only come when the status-quo is challenged. Sometimes that is uncomfortable to the point that we fight against it. For example, Paul, as a Hellenized Jew, was protecting the societies of which he was a part (Roman and Jewish both) when he persecuted early Christians.
Perhaps we should be actively seeking the “new and strange” messengers. If God chose David as a favorite son when he was just a young musician, what right do we have to dismiss Autumn Peltier, a fifteen-year-old Indigenous clean-water activist (and others like her)? Maybe we shouldn’t even write Kanye off, yet, either. I honestly don’t know what to think about Kanye and am inclined to believe he just needs some help…but there have been crazier people cannonized: St. Vladimir performed human sacrifice and had so many kids he lost count before converting to Christianity, and everyone’s favorite St. Francis literally tried to get himself martyred by going on a quest to convert an Islamic Sultan. But they all challenged the societies of their – and in the case of Autumn and Kanye, our – time.
Regardless of our opinion of Paul, he pushes us forward in Spiritual Learning
So really, Paul is just one in a long line of strange converts, strange messengers within Christianity. It took Jesus literally smiting Paul off his horse, yelling at him, and striking him blind to get it to happen, but it happened. Jesus shook Paul out of his complacency with the social status quo Paul had been a part of. I think you would have to be open to new ideas after that experience, right? Hopefully it won’t take the same amount of intervention for the rest of us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to discern what is done out of love and compassion and what is done out of greed and fear. If we approach people with an open but discerning heart, we will be able to make that judgment call when presented with something that isn’t part of our current set of beliefs and values, and possibly presented by someone new and strange to us.
I’m looking forward to learning more about Paul as we dive into the book of Romans next post. He was a controversial figure in his own day, and continues to be so today. Perhaps you don’t like – or even agree with – all of his writings. In all honesty, I think some of the most abused passages from the Bible come from Paul. All that shit about women being subservient to men and not being able to lead in the church etc etc? That’s all Paul. But maybe that makes listening to him extra important. Even if we don’t agree with everything Paul says, (or everything that has been written about what Paul says), perhaps it has pushed us to examine our beliefs, come to a deeper understanding of them and of Jesus’ message, and taught us to do the same the next time we hear something new and strange.