FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
OUR THEME FOR 2014
THE CONVERSION OF SAUL
May 9, 2014
Today’s reading: Acts 9:1-20
Saul met Christ. Out to arrest and imprison Christians, a light from the sky flashed, he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “I am Jesus” (v.5b). Then he got to know Jesus. He was brought to Damascus, where “for three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.” (v.9). Jesus had told him, “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” (v.6). During the three days, certainly Jesus spoke to him and revealed himself more to him, and brought him to faith in him, culminating in his being “baptized” (v.18b). He also learned more about the Way as “he stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus” (v.19b). He was starting to live Christ. Having experienced total transformation, “he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” (v.20). He started toshare Christ.
Notice two realities that are very important. First, the experience of having a personal encounter with Jesus can be, or should be, one of total transformation, a true metanoia, a complete turnaround, from black to white, from blindness to true sight. Second, we must never give up on anyone. We must never consider a person unworthy, or undeserving because of being such a dreadful sinner, or hopeless because of being such an intense opponent of the faith.
Indeed, consider the case of Saul. He “was breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord” (v.1). A short time later he was already proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues. Saul was spending his whole time and energy against the faith, even asking the high priest “for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men and women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.” (v.2). A short time later he was in those synagogues, but as among those who belonged to the Way. He would go on to spend his whole life proclaiming Jesus. Saul was blind to the truth of the gospel, and this was brought to significance as “he could see nothing” (v.8b) and “for three days he was unable to see” (v.9a). But when Ananias laid hands on him (v.17b), “immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.” (v.18a). Saul was in a wretched situation, unable to see and “he neither ate nor drank.” (v.9b). But after Ananias told him about his commission from Jesus, “he got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.” (v.18b-19a).
Saul met Jesus (v.5), was told by Ananias about his commission from Jesus (v.15-16), was baptized in the Spirit through the imposition of hands by Ananias (v.17), had the scales removed from his eyes and began to see (v.18), underwent formation with the disciples (v.19b), and began to do the work of evangelization (v.20). This is what happens through our renewal programs (CLS and LCS) and integration of people into community or the parish.
Now Saul’s conversion was through a direct intervention of Jesus. It is always through the intervention of Jesus, but unlike Saul’s case (a very rare case, as he was very special, becoming an apostle by Jesus’ own appointment), the intervention happens through human instruments. That’s us. We need to share Christ, so that people would meet Christ and move on to live Christ. But even in Saul’s case, after the direct intervention of Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus still used human instruments. He said to Ananias, “Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.” (v.11a). Jesus today tells us the same thing. Get up and go. He might not be as specific as in Saul’s case. But he could be saying to us, get up from your desk at the office and go talk with your co-worker. Get up from your bed and go share the good news with your neighbor. Get up from your parish service and go into the streets and knock on doors of houses. Further in Saul’s case, Jesus also used the disciples in Damascus to share the faith more with him (v.19b).
One more thing. This story of the conversion of Saul also points to our theme for this year. Saul did evil things to the “holy ones in Jerusalem.” (v.13b). “Your holy ones” here literally means “your saints.” To be men and women who belong to the Way (v.2b) is to be called to holiness. We are saints.
To be disciples, those who are called and commissioned, is to be witnesses. To be empowered by the Spirit is for the purpose of witnessing (see Acts 1:8). In Paul’s case, Jesus designated him to be “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites” (v.15). In doing so, “he will have to suffer for my name.” (v.16). Paul was ultimately martyred. The men and women of the Way also suffered, many of them martyrdom. Saul breathed murderous threats against them, and he brought them to Jerusalem in chains (v.2c). They were persecuted. As they were holy ones who were other Christs, Jesus identified with them. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (v.5b). We are called to be witnesses to Jesus, and as such, we are martyrs.
Jesus looks not only to our personal transformation, not only to meeting him and beginning to live him, but to share him. We are called to mission. Jesus told Ananias to get up and go to Saul (v.11). Jesus commissioned Saul to be the apostle to the Gentiles (v.15). When we proclaim the faith to a world in darkness, we encounter opposition. We encounter in fact the Prince of Darkness himself. We become engaged in spiritual warfare. We can expect to experience evil things that men do to God’s holy ones (v.13). We enter into the fight between good and evil. We are warriors.
Who is a true Christian? He is one who has met Jesus, is living Jesus, and is sharing Jesus. Who is a true Christian? He is a saint, a martyr and a warrior.
* * *