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My understanding of Paul


I chose you from the world, to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.

Paul was born Saul, a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, in Tarsus. He was a Roman citizen by birth. Paul went to school in Jerusalem, sitting at the feet of the great Gamaliel. He was a zealous Pharisee. He went back to Tarsus before the ministry of Jesus started. Sometime after Jesus’ death, Paul returned to Jerusalem. His strict observance of the Law and his own convictions made him a religious fanatic objecting to anything that did not adhere to the letter of the law. Is that what people say about us and the Book of Common Prayer? Thus, he was against the Christian upstarts who were not following the letter of the law. He took part in the stoning Stephen, and then devoted his life to persecuting the fledgling church. He got permission from the high priest, to hunt them down and bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there when he met Jesus and the rest as they say is history.


An immediate transformation took place on that road. He was suddenly converted to be a follower. After his baptism Saul became Paul, and began travelling and preaching the Faith, until he was martyred in Rome. His name change reflects the about turn he made. The quote in Galatians 2:20 that says it is no longer I but Christ who lives in me, is for me Paul’s mantra. It certainly reflects his attitude and the lens through which he viewed the world always in a Christlike way. Having the mind of Christ was his spiritual goal.


Paul's conversion took place about five years after Jesus’ death. He like the 12 disciples was called by Jesus himself. Paul thought what happened to him was phenomenal and used every opportunity to refer to it. The Acts of the Apostles details the conversion three separate times: in 9:1-22; 22:3-21; 26:9-18. And he speaks of it in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and in Galatians 1:11–16. Paul's conversion, was a defining moment, not just for him, but also in the growth God's kingdom on earth in the 1st century.


3 things about Paul and his conversion.

1. Paul reflected and connected what he knew about the Jewish faith with Jesus

2. Paul had a divine connection

3. Paul never forgot how and why Jesus called him


Paul learned more about his faith by connecting Jesus and the Jewish scriptures. He was very knowledgeable about the Jewish religion the Torah and the other Jewish Scriptures and sacred books. He was thus able to use them to explain who Jesus was and what was expected from his followers, based on what he understood Jesus to have said and done.

He had a divine connection. Paul we have heard it said many times the zeal he had for persecution he used for proclamation. Paul’s ministry as he describes it in Galatians was by divine revelation. He never interacted with any of the 12 but went off to do as God led him. And I wonder how many of us have ministries sitting on, that God has sent us to do? Les Brown, the motivational speaker, says “The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or to carry out their dream.” Paul was not afraid, he stepped out as God led him to do.


So we learn from Paul that our faith mustn't be lukewarm or ‘fenke fenke’ (frail, weak, puny). We must know our faith and who we are so we can carry out the work that God has given us to do. Had Paul not studied he would not have been to argue with the others when they insisted on the gentile believers being circumcised.


If the Bible is our only record, Paul formed more churches than the 12 who were with Jesus. It is Paul who coined the idea of grace as used in the new Testament. Paul used his knowledge of Scripture and the cultural situations he found himself in to show the God's glory being manifested. We too need to learn and understand our ways our rituals our liturgy, what we do when we worship, and how does that relate to what the Bible tells us, what God tells us and how we experience God within the world.

If we are to use Paul as our example, we can no longer be Christians merely going through the motions, doing things from habit or routine, we must look at life differently, consciously, and with enthusiasm and zeal for the Lord. And we must teach our children to do the same.


Today's feast is a celebration of gratitude to God for Paul’s life and work, but also for our own conversion, the places we have met Jesus in this life, and the fact that each encounter held the possibility of another conversion. In each conversion we got more grace to do more for Jesus despite the frustrations we meet. Each meeting feeds the joy we carry in our hearts for God. We may never have a Damascus road experience, but we certainly can have unforgettable moments of God’s intervention. When these incidences occur it is for us to reflect on them and use them as constant reminders. Just as Paul never forgot how and why Jesus called him. We see Paul spending time with Aquilla and Priscilla earning money, teaching on the sabbath. Paul never allowed his daily work to get in the way of God’s work. Paul took the time from regular work to do God’s work.


Opening ourselves constantly for the movement of the Holy Spirit allows for constant conversions. We sometimes say - I used to believe, I used to do, but now I no longer or that is no longer important. Believe it or not it is conversion taking place hopefully bringing us more into the mind of Christ as our authentic self.


When we come to the communion table it is a significant meeting with Christ. Pius Parsch describes it as our "Damascus hour". I agree as I believe every celebration of the eucharist should affect us in a significant way. The writer says “I brings my human wants and weaknesses and in exchange I receive divine life and strength. I bring human bread (at the Offertory) and receive divine Bread (in holy Communion). I go to Mass a Saul, I come from Mass a Paul”. This is a profound way of viewing our eucharist and if we looked at everything we do as part of our converted life, what we would get is grace upon grace upon grace to be able to do more for Jesus.


Paul’s encounter changed his understanding of God. It was no longer about doing by carrying out laws but about grace and doing and being as led by the spirit . His conversion transformed his readers’ understanding of God. When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, we come to realize that our relationship, with God is important, but also that this relationship must in turn affect those around us positively.


May God give us the courage to be open to The Spirit and its movement. May we constantly meet Jesus daily in our lives and point others to him and him to them.

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