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FEAST OF THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL, APOSTLE

Acts 22:3-16

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.


“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then 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. I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’


Psalm 117:1-2

Praise the Lord, all you nations!

Extol him, all you peoples!

For great is his steadfast love toward us,

and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord!



Mark 16:15-18

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

(NRSVCE)



Meditation


Today we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul as a highly significant event in the foundation of the church. Paul is the first apostle to have not followed (and most likely not even met) his Savior while He lived on earth. Yet he heard his Lord’s voice, and came to know and believe in Him even in the midst of persecuting Him. This prophetic relationship with God, including hearing words and seeing visions, continued throughout Paul’s ministry. And in addition to preaching and writing the majority of the epistles in the New Testament, Paul’s ministry was accompanied by every sign described by Jesus in the sending of His disciples, including healing, casting out demons, and being unhurt by a deadly snake bite.


Paul’s ministry was also marked by an empathy and love for the people he preached to; having been formerly someone who did not believe in Christ he knew how necessary and life-changing the gospel was. Well learned, well traveled, and versatile, Paul also exhibited a great deal of multicultural understanding, respect and sensitivity. As a Jew but a citizen of Rome, Paul (or Saul) used his Roman and Hebrew names interchangeably (usually referred to by his Roman name Paul as he was frequently among the Gentiles), used both his identities to his advantage, and appealed to his listeners based on their culture (appealing to the Greeks’ love of the arts and the messages of their own poets, using the altar to “the unnamed god” to introduce Jesus, etc.). Paul was also willing to suffer misunderstanding, anger, beatings, imprisonment, and all manner of hardship for the sake of the gospel, with patience and fortitude.


As modern people today, we can certainly feel very challenged by St. Paul. We may not be particularly comfortable with the charismatic gifts of tongues, words and visions, healing and casting out evil spirits, although these are the work of the Holy Spirit whom we profess and Jesus promised us these signs would accompany those who believe in Him. We find multicultural understanding and sensitivity more socially acceptable, but remain uncomfortable with it and struggle with the notion of sharing our faith within a framework of respect and empathy rather than elitism. And patience and fortitude in the face of misunderstanding and persecution is challenging to people of any age.


Today, let us allow St. Paul to challenge us, and the Holy Spirit to make us uncomfortable. Let’s pray today to hear God’s voice and see His glory like never before, and for the boldness of St. Paul to share this gift of salvation with the world.


Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, and fill my heart anew. Open my eyes and ears to you and to my brothers and sisters. Push me out of my depth, to experience Your power in my life, to make you known, and to persevere in the face of adversity. St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us.

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