3 Easter, May 5
“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 synagogue at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). A type of religious zeal is evident in this description. Saul of Tarsus was absolutely certain of his cause, animated by an unquestioning and reactive rage, and armed with certified letters from legitimate authority. Such a person will do anything for his religion. Did a light from heaven transfer Saul’s zeal from one cause to another? Did he merely switch sides? Was he only a classic example of the convert, the one who says no with zeal until he say yes with equal or greater zeal?
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground,” Jesus said. Saul falls in this story, he falls to his death, and he is buried for three days in darkness. He is Jonah in the belly of a fish. His convictions count for nothing, his rage runs dry, and he is led by the hand. He is a passive instrument in a divine purpose of which he is unaware.
To be sure, attributes of Saul pass over to Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles; but this not a story about a minor rearrangement of cognitive furniture and emotional steam. This is a story about death. He fell to the ground, was blinded and addressed by a voice from heaven that destroyed his worldview. He was undone.
As if rising from the grave, he regained his sight, was filled with the Holy Spirit, underwent the cleansing of baptism, and took sacramental food for strength. Having intended to inflict suffering, he would become a man of sorrows. “He is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15).
We have a life to live and we make plans. “After these things Jesus showed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing” (John 21:1-3). We have plans. “I am going fishing.” “We will go with you.” “Saul was going along and approaching Damascus.” We think we know what we are doing and where we are going, but in the end we catch nothing.
God is in our death and rebirth. God in Christ takes us by the hand, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18).
There are sorrows we do not want. There are joys we do not want, either, simply because we cannot image them. God beckons and we go, first to our death and then to new life. “You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave” (Ps. 30:3).
Look It Up
Sing “He Is the Way” (The Hymnal 1982).
Think About It
We encounter a land of unlikeness, rare beasts, and unique adventures.