The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle – Readings

Commentary on Acts 22:3-16 or 9:1-22; Psalm 116; Mark 16:15-18

As the First Reading opens, we see Saul going to the high priest getting letters authorising him to go to the synagogues in Damascus and, if he found any Christians (“any who belonged to the Way”) there, he would bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.

As Saul approached the city, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying:

Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

Quite puzzled, he replied:

Who are you, Lord?

The reply came:

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

This must have been news to him.

To attack the followers of Jesus was to attack Jesus himself.

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me. (Matt 25:40)

It is significant that when Saul got to his feet, he was blind. But it was not just a physical blindness; he had not been able to see Jesus as the Word of God. He would stay like this for three days, and during that time neither ate nor drank.

Then a Christian called Ananias was told to go and baptise Saul. Not surprisingly, Ananias was not keen on going to see a man who was going all out to get rid of Jesus’ followers. But he was reassured that this was what God wanted.

Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.

Ananias, presumably with some trepidation, then went to Saul and told him that the Lord had sent him so that Saul could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He laid hands on Saul’s head. Immediately scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. But what he could see was now very different from what he saw before his blindness. He was ready for baptism.

The rest, as they say, is history. Almost immediately, Saul began to go to the synagogues of Damascus proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. It was an extraordinary transformation.

Later, his name will be changed to Paul. From then on, he will launch into an extraordinary career of bringing the Gospel to both Jewish and Gentile communities in what is now Turkey, in Greece, and ultimately in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. This is reflected in the words of the Gospel where Jesus, before his ascension, tells his disciples:

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. (Mark 16:15)

Each one of us has been baptised, most of us at a very early age. But becoming a Christian is not just a once for all event. The process of conversion to a deeper following of Christ is something that can and should continue right through our lives. It is also important to realise that, like Paul, every one of us is called not just to take care of our own spiritual well-being. Rather, our following of Christ is something that calls on us to share that message with people around us, to “proclaim the good news to the whole creation”.

The Gospel reading is from the end of Mark’s Gospel, from what is sometimes referred to as the “longer ending” to distinguish it from a “shorter” one. Both of these texts are thought to have been inserted to round off the rather abrupt original ending of this Gospel. That version described the women on Easter Sunday fleeing from the empty tomb in “terror and amazement” and, because of their great fear, “they said nothing to anyone”.

The longer ending carries on from that point with material that we find in the other narratives, such as references to Mary Magdalen, and to Jesus appearing before his disciples.

Today’s reading includes instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before leaving them for the last time. They are words which apply very much to Paul. They begin with the instructions to proclaim the Good News to the whole of creation. This is exactly what Paul was doing as he reached out to Gentile communities all the way from what is now modern Turkey, through Greece and Macedonia, and on to Rome.

The one who believes and is baptised will be saved…

Paul was second to none in his belief in Christ. He would be able to say later on:

…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

An expression of total union with his Lord.

Jesus then indicates some of the signs that will accompany those who profess their faith. Again, Paul was capable of many of these – like escaping great dangers and bringing healing and wholeness into people’s lives.

Conversion is not something that only happens once in a lifetime. It is something that can happen to us several times in the course of our life. Let us be ready to answer whenever the Lord calls us to something greater.

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