CONVERSION OF PAUL
1st Reading: Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22
Paul addressed the people in these words: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison. Even the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify on my behalf. For from them I even received letters to the brothers and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem in chains for punishment those there as well. “On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’ My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’ The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.’ Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light, I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus. “A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law, and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me and stood there and said, ‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’ And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice; for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard. Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.’”
Gospel: Mk 16:15-18
Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
WHO ARE YOU SIR?: Paul asks this question when he encounters Jesus. In response, he is converted and is commissioned to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel. Following that, the committed Paul gets a complete changed mindset which wins him honour in his many writings and in the end he gains eternal life. He does all, to ensure the spread of the Gospel. Paul’s initial zeal to defend the Law and tradition, is converted in the place of Christ’s universality. He therefore, becomes a true Apostle to the Gentiles. This is the implicit commission we hear every after the Eucharistic celebration – Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord. Like Paul, we are commissioned to go and announce the Good News. Are we still myopic in our views regarding others? Are we still falsely attached to our traditions and identity? Jesus is inviting us to ask, “Who are you Sir?”
Prayer: Lord bend our hearts to your will.
THEY HAVE IT A LOT BETTER: One evening in a city park some youngsters were seen gathered in a group. They were there for fresh air and to escape the noisy days of their hectic life. Nevertheless, each of them had their heads bent, eyes glued onto the screen of the mobiles, no movement, no words and hardly any life around. Just then a swarm of birds flew past them with a flourish and a colourful feather dropped into their midst. Picking up the feather one said, “They appear a more joyous lot enticing us to follow suit”. Along with the mandate from Jesus, the disciples received a great promise. “In my name they will drive out demons”; demons of materialism and relativism. “They will speak new languages”; languages of hope, lines of encouragement and warmth. They will pick up serpents with their hand”; serpents of worldly pleasures. Only if we are courageous and ‘drunk with’ Christ shall we overcome materialism, be people of hope, and handle the serpents safely.
CALL TO CONVERSION: Once Paul encountered the living Jesus he was a changed man. The persecutor became the preacher; the stubborn Pharisee turned into a slave for Christ; the Jew went out to the gentiles. Someone once said that many people have enough religion to hate, but not enough to love. Paul wasn’t a hateful man but he was short-sighted, so intent on protecting God and Torah that he didn’t recognize God’s Son and the Good News. It took a mystical experience to change him. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is a reminder that conversion is not necessarily confined to sinners. Even the righteous should listen to Jesus’ call for repentance and rethink their own convictions. A Christian is necessarily “on the road.” Jesus says, “Follow me,” and those who respond are automatically on a journey. Fear, however, keeps many would-be disciples from moving on. Paul’s fear of the new way put limits on the divine initiative. Jesus, however, appeared to Paul, upbraided him for his persecution, and temporarily blinded him. When his sight was restored, Paul at last saw things in a new way. He changed his mind. He was converted, turning to Christ and then taking Christ to the whole world.
CONVERSION OF PAUL: The event of the conversion of St Paul must have been so powerful for Paul himself, and for the early Christian community that it is narrated and referred to so many times in the New Testament (Act 9:1-19; Acts 22: 3-16; Acts 26:12-18; Gal 1:11-16). Often, we think of conversion as a stone becoming wood – totally unrelated states before and after conversion. But conversion is more like a piece of wood becoming a piece of furniture – the basic person is the same, but there is a change of orientation. As Saul and Paul, he is always ardent about his faith, exhibiting a high degree of confidence, energy and commitment. But the basic aspect of conversion is the change of orientation: “is orientation fit for me to live in Christ”.