“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” Acts 9:1-4
Saul, who later became known by his Latin name Paul, was on a Holy mission to root out followers of Jesus. Fearful that others would be convinced that Jesus was the longed for Messiah, he felt a responsibility to stop the stories before they spread any further. Being a man of action, Paul secured the blessing of the High Priest to pursue, capture and bring back to Jerusalem all the men and women he found promoting the Jesus heresy.
The intensity of Paul’s conviction must have needed divine light and a voice from heaven to get his attention. In writing of the Apostle Paul’s dramatic Damascus Road experience, Stephen Jones points out that all of us, have been or are on this Damascus road. He writes, “Not many of us are ‘breathing threats and murder’ against our opponents. However, we have all been on wrong paths that have been injurious to ourselves and others. We have all been headstrong, stubborn, blinded to our own ambition, selfish to meet our own need, caught in addictive behaviors and oblivious of the true cost to others or to ourselves.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Pg 403 Stephen D. Jones)
Conversion, it turns out, is a life long process. One we return to again and again. Paul’s conversion experience was a dynamic moment, where earth and heaven met. Light flashed and a man’s heart was turned from persecuting Jesus’ followers, to proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Our turnings are more likely to be a slow realization we have twisted truth for personal advantage and chosen to believe in ways that agreed with our already perceived truths . . . Denying God’s word, when we have not liked the message.
We travel there when our stubborn pride gets in the way of compassion and love. We are there when we breathe threats and destruction towards those who see the world differently, than we do. In these moments what we most need is light. If not the blinding light Paul experienced . . . Then a light inside, one that points to a better way. If not a voice from heaven asking why we are persecuting Jesus . . . Then a quiet inner voice that speaks truth to our wrong. If not being struck down . . . Then a sense of unease over words we’ve said, attitudes we’ve hung on to, or mean-spiritedness we’ve engaged in.
Like Paul, we can be convinced we are on the path of truth, justice and righteousness, only to discover we have been completely wrong. Far from being on the side of right, we have aligned ourselves with evil, persecuting God’s children.
Convinced of the righteousness of your cause, only to learn how wrong you are, can be a humbling experience. I’m reminded, that in my perception of others, love needs to rule my heart. Paul would later write these words. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-2 Paul’s conversion moment was preceded by years of thinking himself righteous, only to learn that he had forgotten that love, belonged at the center of his faith.