Scripture: Acts 9:1-9
Key verse: (4) “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Reflection: In Barbara Kingsolver’s powerful novel, The Poisonwood Bible, Rev. Nathan Price is frustrated that none of the Kilanga people he has come to the Congo to convert to Christianity are willing to be baptized. This is one of many frustrations Rev. Price has in his efforts to convert the Kilanga. For Price, conversion means getting the Kilanga to be more like him; dress more civilized, act more civilized, employ more modern techniques of agronomy and fishing, and of course, be baptized by immersion in the river. The problem is that when Price calls for people to be baptized, the natives believe he is asking for people to be sacrificed to God, because the river is infested with crocodiles. They think he wants to sacrifice their children to Jesus by feeding them to the crocodiles. Price’s pridefulness ultimately becomes his undoing. He can’t imagine that he might need to see things in a different way.
Rev. Nathan Price reminds me a little bit of Saul before the Damascus Road. Like Price, Saul was zealous for the faith. In his zeal, he was rounding up heretics who spouted nonsense about a crucified carpenter’s son being the promised Messiah. He oversaw the stoning of Stephen. Driven by his righteousness, now he was on his way to Damascus to do God’s work by arresting more of these trouble makers to bring them before the council in Jerusalem. But on the way to fulfill his righteous calling, Saul is blinded by the light of God. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He has no idea who he is persecuting. He’s defending the faith. Who is this divine voice? It’s Jesus. Saul discovers that in his zeal to protect God’s ways, he is actually persecuting God’s servants. This moment changes everything for Saul. Ultimately it changes even his name.
When Paul reflects on this experience in his own writings, he speaks not of “conversion,” but of “call.” He came to understand God’s call upon his life in such a way that his zeal for protecting the faith was transformed into a radical gospel that proclaimed God’s love for all people; Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. What a radical change in understanding God’s will.
Have you ever found yourself challenged in such a way? Have you ever discovered that in your zeal for the faith, you have actually done more harm than good in advancing the gospel? Have you ever had an experience that left you blind to a world you thought you saw with such crystal clarity? If so, praise God! That experience was born of the risen Christ at work in your life.
Prayer: Open my eyes, Lord, that I might see; not with the clarity of my own vision, but with the steadfast love of yours. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].