SETTING: Saul’s mother’s house in Jerusalem. He has dinner with her this day every week following his fasting ritual. She is getting worried. It’s after dark and he’s never been this late before. Saul enters with a self-satisfied look on his face.
Mom: “Oh! You’re home late, Saul. Sit down; dinner’s getting cold. So how was your day?”
Saul: “Such a day you wouldn’t believe. It started out normal. Prayers at the Temple with my mentor, Gamaliel. Gave alms and another offering after my fast. Then such a commotion like I never heard.”
Mom: “A commotion?”
Saul: “Yes, at the Synagogue of the Freedman…you know those foreign Jews. We heard some men arguing about how the veil guarding the Holy of Holies could have ever been split? A big shouting match, you would think the whole world needed to know, and in the middle of it all was that apostate, Stephen. He joined that new ‘The Way’ cult. It’s what those fishermen and that tax collector who started it call themselves.”
Mom: “Stephen? Isn’t he the one who helps feed the widows in the city? I heard he even healed cousin Miriam’s friend who almost died from a fever.”
Saul: “Really, Mom? It was more likely the chicken soup.”
Mom: “How did such a nice boy get mixed up in such a ruckus?”
Saul: “Nice boy?! He probably started it with all that slander his people are saying about the high priest and the crucifixion of that blasphemer, Jesus! You know that his people even accuse our most revered and trusted elders of having the Romans kill that pretender! Our Sanhedrin! Jehovah’s rulers! Can you believe it? That Jesus had his trial just like his boy Stephen did!”
Mom: “A trial? I have to sit down! Over an argument? What happened?”
Saul: “Yes, a trial and about time, too! These Lamb of God zealots are full of contempt for our Temple, Moses, and our Law. They have to answer for it. Praise God we Pharisees are here to defend the faith of our fathers! And after today, you know, I’ve never been prouder to be a Jew. Our whole community: the elders, teachers of the law, and the good people of our city dragged that Nazarene lover before the Sanhedrin and gave testimony about your nice boy’s blasphemies.”
Mom: “Oy! I never would have believed it!”
Saul: “Believe it! And then out of his own mouth he accuses the entire Sanhedrin of being the sons of prophet killers, lawbreakers, and murderers of the Messiah!”
Mom: “What happened then?”
Saul: “What else? He was plainly guilty. We dragged him outside the city and stoned him!”
Mom: “Stoned him!”
Saul: “Yes, of course, stoned him. It had to be done. Such an honor they gave me that I should watch their coats as they carried out the Lord’s justice. You should have seen him, dying with that deceiver Jesus’ words on his lips that Jehovah should forgive us. FORGIVE US! Pathetic! I hope he’s with him right now. Good riddance!”
Mom: “It sounds so horrible.”
Saul: “Horrible, yes, it was horrible…gloriously horrible. Sometimes you have to do the terrible to preserve the beautiful. The Temple, the Law of Moses, our heritage in Abraham, our traditions, these things are beautiful. Every fiber in me will fight to keep them from being destroyed by that carpenter’s corruption!”
Mom: “Calm down, Saul!”
Saul: “Calm? How can I be calm when there’s more of them every day? No! No more! I swear that I’ll devote the rest of my life to crushing out this heresy.”
Mom: “Where are you going?”
Saul: “To the High Priest. We have to get organized. First, we’ll purge Jerusalem of these swine. Once that’s done, I hear there is a cell of them forming in Damascus. I’ll head there next. There’s no way, ‘The Way’ is getting away and if I don’t hear the name of Jesus again, I’ll die a happy man!”
We know that everything changed for Saul on that road to Damascus where Jesus in His glory knocked Saul off his horse and asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Our Lord’s question shows His intimacy with His body, the Church as described in our gospel reading John 17:20-26. It also shows that no one is beyond the grace of God and the reach of Jesus to turn an enemy like Saul into Paul, one of the greatest Apostle and son of God every recorded. So, let us keep praying for our loved ones, who as of yet do not know Christ as their Savior and Lord. Don’t lose heart. At the same time, we need to look deep an examine ourselves to make sure that we truly are in the faith and not deluded like Saul (2 Peter 1:10-11, 2 Corinthians 13:5). There is a lot riding on it.
Our last two readings: Psalm 97: 1-7 and in Revelation 22:12-20 bring the consequences of being on the wrong side of the Jesus question to light. Both refer to the judgment of God on the wicked, even the morally religious wicked, trying to earn their way to heaven. So, the important thing is not whether you think that you are on God side like Saul, but whether you are in Christ like Paul. I’ll finish by letting the Apostle tell you in his own words in Philippians 3:1:14.
Philippians 3 New International Version (NIV)
No Confidence in the Flesh
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.