Thursday, July 9
There are many “characters” in the Bible, some more well known than others. Today I want us to think about one of the most well-known “characters” – the Apostle Paul in his early years.
The apostle Paul, who was born Saul, was the son of zealot parents. Zealots at that time were not just people who were standing on a street corner proclaiming that they were the chosen children of God. They were very militant and engaged in guerilla warfare to remove foreigners from Israel. Saul’s parents were involved in a major tax revolt, which ended with them being arrested and sold into slavery in Rome. This is the life Saul was born into – he was born a slave. He spent his early years with virtually no rights or personal freedoms. Saul’s owner died when he was a teenager, and he had made arrangements for his slaves to be freed upon his death. Saul and his parents were now free. Under the prevailing law of the day, they became Roman citizens. Saul went from having no rights at all to becoming a citizen of the most powerful empire at that time.
Like his parents, Saul became a zealous student of Jewish law. He studied under Gamaliel, who was the most influential rabbi of the time. To be a student of Gamaliel can be compared to being a student of Einstein. Although Gamaliel taught that loving your neighbour meant accepting the Gentiles, Saul disagreed. Saul was very zealous and viewed Christianity as a huge threat.
We first read about Saul at the stoning of Stephen. He was one of the witnesses who watched the event. After the stoning, Paul was going from house to house, dragging out men and women and throwing them into jail.
Having pre-identified followers of the Way in Damascus, he was on a mission to arrest them and take them prisoner. It was on this journey that Jesus appeared to him. In Acts 9 we read the account of his conversion. The light was so bright that Paul fell to the ground. When he heard the voice saying “Saul, why do you persecute me,” he asked “who are you, Lord?” Jesus told him he was Jesus who he persecuted and to get up and go into Damascus and he would be told what to do. When he got up, he was blind and his companions had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. He remained blind for three days and did not eat or drink but waited. After three days, Ananias came to him and Saul regained his sight, was baptized and the rest, as they say, is history.
How are we like Paul? We may not be an actual slave but we may feel stuck in our current situation whatever that may be. But no season lasts forever. I remember somebody telling me the meaning of “this too shall pass.” It works both ways, when things are not going well – “this too shall pass”; when things are going great – “this too shall pass.” The point they were making was no matter what your life is like, it can change in an instant, and we need to be grateful for the good days and patient in the bad days.
Just as Paul was set free, Jesus has set us free. He is with us in every season, even when we don’t realize it.
We may not experience a huge conversion experience like the apostle Paul did, but each of us has been called by Jesus to follow him. At some point in our life, we have to make the decision to do this. For some who were raised in the church, it may take place at confirmation but for others it may come a little later. The when and the where is really not important; it is the decision that is. Because of this decision, we are empowered to love others without discrimination. As a result, our faith can bear fruit and change the world around us.
God thank you for calling us by name and setting us free. Thank you for your faithfulness in all the seasons of our lives. Help us to show your love to all those around us without judgement or discrimination. Amen.