I was preparing to lector for a daily Mass, and the reading happened to be Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-20). Part of my preparation is to read out loud, and hearing this powerful passage made me take a closer look.
The writer of Acts does not shy away from bold statements, and the chapter begins, “Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord…” It’s clear that Saul doesn’t just dislike the disciples; he wants to put an end to this group known as The Way, even if it means killing all the followers of Jesus. However, the official letters he requested from the high priest were not for putting them to death, rather that, “he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.” Perhaps he had hoped that these followers could be reconditioned or convinced to return to the proper Jewish practices. Perhaps it’s this passion, this zealousness for God, that makes room in his heart for conversion.
Saul’s encounter with Jesus came in a blinding flash of light that caused him to close his eyes and fall to the ground. In this vulnerable state, Jesus spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The encounter leaves him blind, requiring his fellow travelers to lead him by the hand into Damascus. For three days, he was left in prayer, he neither ate nor drank. What must have gone through his mind during this time? There was probably a good amount of ‘what have I done’ during his meditation. But perhaps all the exposure to the disciples’ teaching started to sink in, including the debates Stephen participated in prior to his martyrdom which Saul witnessed. Is there a deliberate connection between the three days that Jesus spent in the tomb and this three day hiatus in Saul’s life? When he was baptized, Saul’s old life was washed away and new life in Jesus’ resurrection took root, so that “he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”
Reading the twenty lines of this major transformation makes it seem like it happened in an instant. But it took Saul three days of being blind, praying, fasting to prepare for this baptism and his new life for Christ. He went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. The results are the fourteen letters he wrote to the Christian communities, timeless messages that continue to be relevant to Jesus’ followers even today.