5 May 2017
Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.
Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.
A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’
When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.
He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’
The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.
I am Jesus and you are persecuting me.
In today’s first reading, we learn about Saul’s conversion – Saul desired to rise to the level of prestige and power that he believed was his destiny. He was bent to prove his worth and went all out to destroy the believers in Jesus; he hunted down and persecuted Christians. Years later, in obedience to the vision of Jesus Christ, he was converted and became Paul. He was to become one of the greatest evangelists in spreading Christianity after his encounter with Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. He also suffered much while preaching the gospel and eventually he was martyred in Rome. His writings make up much of the New Testament.
So you might be thinking now – how can Jesus pick someone as insolent and power hungry as Saul to become His instrument to bring the gospel to pagans? But Paul’s conversion proves that God can call and transform anyone he chooses, even the most hardened individual, to work for his kingdom.
I have heard stories of ex-convicts, the most hardened criminals convicted to life in prison or those facing death sentences change for the better. One such story is about a young man who was in prison and his job was to prepare meals for convicts in death row. Each time one of them was due to hang in a few days, the warden would alert him and he would take extra care in preparing their meals. He will even say a prayer for their souls. Eventually he got out of prison and started a social enterprise that employs ex-convicts to give them a second chance.
Everyone deserves a second chance. Yes, Jesus has a plan for everyone – even those we judge to be unworthy of our forgiveness and love. So each time we look at a fellow brother or sister who has made a wrong judgement along the way with disdain, we are persecuting Jesus. For those of us who have sinned and tell ourselves that God will never forgive us, you are wrong. Our God is a loving and merciful God. We have to open our hearts to be healed and forgiven. For those of us who have suffered under the burden of anger, resentment, unforgiveness, jealously – open your heart and let Jesus in. Don’t deprive yourselves of spiritual nutrients and every good and amazing thing God had planned for us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)
Prayer: May we rise from the darkness of the tomb. That the Light of Christ shine in our hearts this Easter season. May we bring the light of love to those who we find hardest to love; may we be beacons of hope given to those who have given up on this life.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for reminding us that each time we persecute others, we are in fact persecuting you. Thank you Risen Lord, for being our strength and our song.