The conversion experience of Saul of Tarsus is one of the most dramatic in all of the Bible. We can learn from it.
As far as the Bible itself tells us (in one of the readings usually used today), there is nothing in Saul’s background that would have indicated he was the person who would do more than any mortal to spread the word of, and faith in, the Risen Christ. More even than Peter, the Rock, it was Paul who laid the foundation for the church universal. Yet before his experience on the road to Damascus, Saul was not only wholly unsympathetic to the new Christians, but actually was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” This, after approving of the death of the martyred Stephen and after having “dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
There is no discernible reason for Christ to choose Saul to spread his message. Saul was the antagonist. Saul was the persecutor. Saul was the enemy.
Yet suddenly, thrown to the ground amidst a light to heaven, Saul became Paul and the enemy became the most effective evangelistic disciple.
This is nearly a miracle, and is certainly a wonder.
Put yourself in the shoes of Saul/Paul. Have you ever had an experience like that? Something that changed your entire outlook, perhaps your entire life, in a single instant?
I haven’t. Nothing quite so astonishingly dramatic.
But if we look for signs, for experiences, for epiphanies that are of somewhat lesser drama, then perhaps we have seen them more often than we first realize.
Was it the obnoxious man you had dismissed as a “bum” who surprised you by generously giving, from his meager means, to others? Was it the man you thought was a coward who was the only one to stand by your side when it was unpopular to do so? Was it the time you suddenly found yourself laughing amidst the greatest emotional pain? Or maybe it was when a six-year-old girl smiled and, unbidden, offered you a purple flower.
Sometimes, somehow, something clicks into place. Sometimes, as the story of Paul’s conversion describes it, “something like scales [falls] from [our] eyes.” When it does, we see as we haven’t seen before, and we become like the Apostles in today’s Gospel passage who recognize our Lord in the mundane act of cooking breakfast. We see that the ordinary can become extraordinary, that what is expected becomes a terrific surprise.
And when such an incident of grace occurs, what are we to do? Well, then, the last line of today’s Psalm has the answer: “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”