In this week’s readings from Acts of the Apostles, the death of Stephen and the persecution of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians result in the church’s growth beyond Jerusalem. Philip the deacon and others bring the neighboring Samaritans to the faith and send off the Ethiopian eunuch to Africa with the good news. Peter reaches out to the Roman centurion Cornelius and baptizes him and his household.
For Luke, however, the conversion of Paul, recalled in today’s readings, is more important than any of these events. He recalls Paul’s conversion three times in the Acts of the Apostles, indicating Paul’s importance in the spread of the word to the Gentiles.
Jesus himself appears to Paul and speaks to him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The three accounts in Acts insist that Paul is divinely chosen for his mission by the Risen Jesus.
Paul also shows us our capabilities, how far we can rise, from the depths to the heights. That’s why the church recalls his conversion a number of times in the church year. As he himself acknowledges, he rose from the dust and became a powerful force in his church and in the world through God’s grace.
St. John Chrysostom says of him: “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…
The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”
May God raise up the Paul in us.