JANUARY 25, 2013 - CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL

ACTS 22:3-16; MARK: 1:15-18

WHOEVER BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED WILL BE SAVED; WHOEVER DOES NOT BELIEVE WILL BE CONDEMNED. These are not the words of some narrow-minded, rather unsophisticated conservative, although that is how they sound at first hearing when they are spoken in today's world. Such an absolute insistence on something as personal and subjective as belief has been made to seem primitive and all together out of date. Yet, as Saint Mark's Gospel presents them, they are a direct quote of the Risen Christ, whose mental perspective is universal in time as well as being inclusive of all persons and nations. They represent the final directive to the men he charged with preaching the Gospel. "God into the whole world" he ordered, "and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." To impress these chosen followers with the importance of their assigned mission he adds the explanatory comment that "WHOEVER BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED WILL BE SAVED; WHOEVER DOES NOT BELIEVE WILL BE CONDEMNED." The apostles to whom our Lord gave this charge faithfully fulfilled the mission assigned them by the risen Savior, none, however, with the same scope and ardor that characterized Saint Paul's preaching of the Gospel. He too was commissioned by the Risen Lord Jesus, personally, in a dramatic vision of the glorified Savior, at the time of his conversion, surely the most remarkable and fateful incident of its kind in history.

When Jesus was put to death by the authority of Rome at the instigation and insistence of Jewish religious authorities, his followers were a scattered number of Israelites. No one but the Lord himself was thinking of a worldwide movement organized into a single body. However, his enemies had foreseen and feared the possibility of the whole Jewish nation accepting him. Implicit in this fear, John understood was God's broader plan. When Caiphas told the Jewish leader that it is better for one man to die than that the whole nation should be lost, John comments that the high priest was speaking prophetically and that Jesus' death was to extend beyond the Jewish people to the children of God scattered throughout the world. (John11: 51). It was at this occasion that the decision to put Jesus to death was decided on.

Paul had entered wholeheartedly into this same attitude after the resurrection when the early Christian movement was proving a threat to the official Jewish religion. His account of how he was so dramatically converted by the abrupt encounter with the Risen Lord remains a deeply moving story for us today. For one of its lessons is how personally Jesus identifies with those who put their faith in him. "Saul, why do you persecute me?" was the immediate cause that he gave for intervening so directly. Later in his teaching on the Church as the mystical body of Christ Paul was to make this revelation a fundamental mystery of the faith that gave rise to important practical aspects of Christian life. The other major feature of this encounter with Christ in glory was the message confided to Paul through Ananias that he was to serve as God's witness to the whole world. The expression used is a pregnant one: Paul is to be a witness (martyr) for Jesus to all men and women. The precise content of his witness is what he personally was told by Jesus. The doctrine that came to be known as the mystical body was implicit in our Lord's words: "Paul, why do you persecute ME?" We who put our faith in Christ our Savior are personally identified by the Lord in glory as intimately belonging to his own person. The fact that Paul is to witness this marvelous truth to all persons (pantas anthropous) as the Greek text literally states it, implicitly it applies not only to those of his own time but to all, throughout the generations. History shows it has been understood in this broad sense.

What we celebrate, then, today at this Eucharist in commemorating Saint Paul's conversion includes our own conversion to faith in the living and glorified Lord who unites us with himself intimately, and in doing so form us all into one , thus making us in all truth, children of God in his beloved Son.


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger