Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus whom you are persecuting; you harm only yourself by kicking against the goad.Liturgy of the Hours, Conversion of Paul, Apostle, Office of Readings, Antiphon 1 from Acts 26:14
Scales fell from the eyes of Saul’s heart as scales filled the eyes of his body. The Light spoke and revealed his name, Jesus. The illustrious and learned Pharisee Saul was no better than a dumb ox struggling against the hand that feeds him. A goad is a long stick with a pointed end used to guide livestock. The obedient and docile follow along peacefully, while the rebellious and discontent “kick against the goad” and jab their flesh against the point.
Saul thought he was doing God a favor by purging Judaism of heresy and blasphemy. His encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus was a splash of cold water on a face fuming with righteous indignation. His whole world was suddenly transformed.
Jesus was supposedly dead and buried. Saul never laid a hand on the infamous Messianic pretender, but only on his wayward disciples. Yet the voice spoke loud and clear, “I am Jesus.” The crucified one was no longer simply here or there, a local Christ, but everywhere and in each of his followers!
During his whirlwind conversion, the blinded Saul was baptized by Ananias, recovered his sight, and began to preach to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. He found himself caught in a no man’s land: feared and suspected by followers of the Way, and persecuted by the Jews as a turncoat.
Paul (Saul’s alternate name, see Acts 13:9) says that he spent three years in Arabia before returning to Damascus and meeting Peter in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:17-18). The divine silence in the desert must have prepared Paul for his powerful public ministry. He begins his letter to the Galatians thus:
Paul, an apostle not from human beings nor through a human being but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead…Galatians 1:1
The mediator of a new covenant, the eternal high priest Jesus Christ, chose Paul directly from the heavens. “I did not immediately consult flesh and blood,” Paul says (Galatians 1:16).
Now I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.Galatians 1:11-12
The Lord confirmed his choice through his Body, the Church, by baptism and the laying on of hands. The Paul who stoned Stephen stoned Christ, but both forgave him and welcomed him into their eternal communion of love.
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ… If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.1 Corinthians 12:12, 26