Skip to comments.St. Paul's Vision
Posted on 06/04/2005 6:15:03 PM PDT by sionnsar
"Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
This text tells the story of St. Paul's dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Of course, Paul was not looking to be converted to Christ. He was, rather, in hot pursuit of followers of the Way, armed with credentials from the high priest and a passionate resolve to see this "Way" wiped out completely.
The story that unfolds in these few verses is one that has much to say about the nature of the Church and the nature of conversion.
I had never noticed this before reading A. M. Ramsey's The Gospel and the Catholic Church, but Jesus tells Saul that he is the one Saul is persecuting. He doesn't say "I am Jesus, whose disciples you are persecuting," or "I am Jesus, whose Way you are persecuting." In this simple post-ascension "I am" statement, the Lord Jesus identifies himself with his Church. The Church is not simply a group of people who follow Jesus. The Church is in a very real way united to her Lord. It's not surprising that Saul would hear these words and later be the one to develop the idea of the Church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians) with Christ as the Head (Ephesians, Colossians).* This has tremendous implications of how the Church is to order her life. Simply put, she is to order her life in the same way a human body orders itself...by listening to and obeying the commands that come from the head. Life in the Church is nothing less than sharing in the life of God in Christ, or "partaking of the divine nature (1 Peter 1:4)." A church that orders its life apart from living union with Christ, body and head, is no church at all. When a church sells its birthright for a "mess of pottage (Heb. 12:16)" it loses its place in the line of inheritance. The lifeblood that keeps body and head united throughout the centuries is called Holy Tradition. When this is ignored, changed, or discarded, it is to drain the blood and replace with embalming fluid, which appropriately enough, only serves the dead, and that by making them look better. But they're still dead.
Jesus, when he appeared to that great theologian-to-be of the Church, laid the foundation by identifying himself with that Church. To persecute the Way was to persecute Christ himself. And so today, to depart from the Way as it has been handed down is to depart from Christ himself.
This passage also gives some interesting insight into the nature of conversion. The stereotypical evangelical approach ( and I mean stereotypical...not necessarily typical) is to "present the gospel" and then seal the deal with a "decision" for Christ. Without denying the necessity of a personal embrace of the truth of the gospel, it needs to be said that conversion is a process. Paul heard the living voice of the One for whom he would from henceforth live...and die. And yet, even with that unmediated encounter, Paul was blinded for a period of three days before he was completely enlightened. Why was Paul blinded? Shouldn't his eyes have immediately been opened after encountering the Lord Jesus? No, for the light of Christ was so bright that it simply allowed him to see how in the dark he really was. Those who are in complete darkness must first have their eyes opened to darkness itself before they can see the Light as He really is. Perhaps this is why the early Church was so committed to the Catechumenate as a requirement for Holy Baptism.
Thanks for posting. Well worth the read.
You're both very welcome!
January 25, 2007
Conversion of St. Paul
Pauls entire life can be explained in terms of one experiencehis meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealots hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: ...entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was entered, possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goalbeing a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.
One sentence determined his theology: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with peoplethe loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.
From then on, his only work was to present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me (Colossians 1:28b-29). For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).
Pauls life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christs victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.
So Pauls great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more works than the Law could ever contemplate.