Thinking Towards Sunday; “C” – Easter 3; Acts 9:1-6

NIV Acts 9:4 "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

 

Saul of Tarsus (whom we know as Paul) fascinates me. We are talking about a man who heard the call of God and committed his whole life to serving God long before encountering our Risen Lord on a road to Damascus (the story of that encounter is found in Acts 9:1-6).

 

How could an intelligent, rational, well educated and deeply religious person with rich spiritual life like Saul of Tarsus misinterpret what God was doing in the world around him and commit his life to persecuting Jesus (Acts 9:4) and Jesus’ followers?

 
 
Describing himself prior to this mysterious encounter with Jesus, Paul wrote in Acts 22:3-5,

"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem, aft]. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way [the way of Jesus, aft] to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished" (NIV, clarification added).

 
Saul’s commitment to his call was evident in his lifestyle; he studied under Rabbi Gamaliel (the Rabbi from acts 5:34 who made a choice to defend Peter and other apostles in Sanhedrin). Yet, Saul commitment to his faith and ancestral traditions manifested itself in zealous (bordering of fanatical) persecution of the followers of Jesus.

 

 

Although God was already working in Paul’s life, calling him to a life of service, Paul’s interpretation of this call was strong commitment to eradicating ALL the followers of Jesus and preserving the purity of his faith and ancestral traditions because they did not fit his mold/understanding of who followers of God are or who God is. With the work ethic that would rival the famous Protestant work ethic, Paul was pressing on towards the goal of persecuting Christians. In his own eyes however, Saul was making personal sacrifices to ensure the survival of his people and his family.
 
 
The truth is that when Saul made a decision to persecute Christians, he made a conscious decision to do what he (Saul) thought was right, instead of discerning what God was doing in the world. By persecuting Christians, Saul of Tarsus made an assumption that the survival of God’s people depended on making sure that God’s love and grace was extended only to those who shared his (Saul’s) worldview. As a result of following his own agenda as opposed to God’s agenda, Paul ended up persecuting God in the person of Jesus (Acts 9:4) and in persons of Jesus’ followers!
 
 
I wonder how many devout, sincere Christians make a similar choice to do what we have always done, and to protect what we already have instead of listening to God, working to discern what God is doing in the world around us, and then working with God to make "all things new" (Isa 43:19, Rev 21:5).
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