story of the conversion of Paul, (who used to be Saul) is an interesting one.
That example, of an apostle who became the most productive in writing and
pastoral activity without having set his eyes on the risen Christ, could be used
to understand that Christ never abandoned his disciples after his resurrection.
the resurrection of Christ and the Pentecost, Peter and the other apostles had
started to preach the Gospel. Some of the disciples had started to baptize Gentiles. However, the new faith was only strong in Palestine till the
martyrdom of Stephen. Then Christians were scattered in the world. But even
then, it became a heavy and difficult matter for the disciples to accept the
Gentiles in the Church. For the Gospel to be well spread in foreign nations, it
needed someone who knew Judaism well and could relate well to foreigners,
someone who could easily approach poor people as well as rich ones, uneducated
and educated people. Saul had all the needed qualities: he was born in Judaism,
grew up in Tarsus, became a Pharisee, and had Roman nationality.
back to the persecution of the first disciples after the resurrection, the
Pharisees and the Scribes could not believe what they were experiencing: how
could those disciples, mostly uneducated men and women, preach Jesus's resurrection after having deserted him when he was arrested? Where did they get
their new zeal? What could be the means to stop them? For a while, the
Pharisees thought that they had a solution in a young man, Saul of Tarsus, who
seemed to be as zealous as those Christians. And in addition to the zeal, Saul
had also the power and the force to silence the Christians.
started his mission with an eagerness that made him notoriously evil for
Christians. One day he found himself witnessing, and consenting to, the death of the first
Christian martyr. He then became a terror. He approved or ordered the death of
many Christians. He put many others in jail. However, his zeal to persecute
Christians ended when he was about to persecute the Christians in Damascus. A
spectacular thing happened to him. He repeats the story in these words: “On
that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky
suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul,
Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’ and he said
to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting. My companions saw the
light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me” (Acts 22: 6-9).
The circumstances of those events might be understood by some as a figurative
way of conveying a much stronger and overwhelming experience. Did he start to
reflect on the meaning of Christianity at the stoning of Stephen? No one can
tell. Nonetheless, the extent of the change in him after his conversion was unquestionably
Much has been written on the conversion of Paul and
it remains one of the most beautiful stories of conversion. One among many
things that we could learn from this story is that God knows how to defend the
Church. The Church and the believers can’t claim to protect God and faith, they
are just instruments used by God. God knows how and when to use them. Their role
is to be available and willing to be instruments. When the Church goes through harsh
moments like those of the persecuted Early Church, and when we rightly or misguidedly
believe that we are under attack, we should not lose hope. Adopting the attitude
of a violent zeal would only prove our lack of faith. We might use fierce enthusiasm
thinking that we are defending God and our faith, but then, just as Paul before
his conversion, we would be highly mistaken.