The Call of Paul

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

Unlike the 12 Apostles who Jesus originally chose to be in His inner circle, St. Paul was chosen by Christ to be an Apostle without the three year discipleship training the others had enjoyed.  The original Twelve were given several years to hear the Master’s teachings and to observe His behavior.  Paul on the other hand was antagonistic to Christ and His disciples, but then met the Risen Christ and became convinced that Jesus was both Messiah and Lord.

“For Paul, this conviction stemmed from his encounter with the Risen Christ, who had called Paul, the persecutor of Christians, to be an apostle (1 Cor 15:8-11).  Paul describes his call as a kind of premature birth, which may seem a strange expression to use, since he was, he tells us, the last of those to whom Christ appeared.  Yet this metaphor reminds us of the abrupt nature of his conversion/call.  There had been for him no preparatory ‘gestation’ period as a disciple of Jesus: instead, he was suddenly confronted by the Risen Christ.”  (Morna Hooker, Paul: A Beginners Guide, pp 44-45)

This confrontation Paul has with the Risen Jesus causes a profound change in his understanding of God and what it means to be faithful to the Tradition he was so intent on defending.

“Saul’s conversion is so familiar a story that its theological and moral significance is often overlooked.  Saul was a man of violence, persecuting and killing those who adhered to ‘The Way’ sect of Judaism, followers of Messiah Jesus.  Struck down by a blinding light on the road to Damascus, Saul’s violence (cf 1 Tim 1:13) was confronted and transformed.  Speaking out from this heavenly light, Jesus addresses this violence, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4-5).  From this dramatic encounter of both conversion and call to ‘bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel’ (Acts 9:15; 26:17-18), Paul becomes the clearest first-century voice for peace and peacemaking, giving his life to unite formerly alienated peoples, and exhorting those caught in divisive rivalry within the newfound congregations to seek peace with one another (Rom 14:19; 1 Thess 5:13; 2 Cor 13:11).”   (Willard Swartley, COVENANT OF PEACE, p 161)

St Paul recognized not only that Jesus was the Christ, but that his whole worldview of a separation between Jews and Gentiles was simply wrong in the face of the Messiah, for Jesus was Lord for everyone, Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free.  Instead of pushing the Pharisaic agenda that keeping Torah meant keeping apart from Gentiles, now St Paul tried to organize communities in which Jew and Gentile embraced one another and considered each other brothers and sisters – one race instead of two.  All the dividing walls between Jew and Gentile were torn down.  Additionally, Paul abandons his way of enforcing his agenda through violence and endeavors to follow the peacemaking way of Jesus Christ the Lord.

and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.  (Micah 4:2-5)

Paul’s conversion meant a radical paradigm shift for St. Paul.  His experience of Christ in his encounter with the Risen Lord has been celebrated as a rebirth which any Christian might experience.  St. Symeon the New Theologian said about his own conversion experience:

“I see the unseeable beauty,

That unapproachable light, that unbearable glory.

My mind is completely astounded.

I tremble with fear.  …

I found him whom I had seen from afar,

The one Stephen saw when the heavens opened,

And later whose vision blinded Paul.

Indeed, he was a fire in the center of my heart.

I was outside myself.  I broke down, lost to myself,

And unable to bear the unendurable brightness of that glory.”

(John McGuckin, ILLUMINED IN THE SPIRIT,  p 240)

Coming to Christ means seeing all things new (Revelation 21:5).

 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.   (Revelation 21:1)

St Paul not only saw everything in a new way, he embraced a new way of life including the rejection of violence as a means to serve God and embracing a ministry of reconciliation for all the people of the world.