You’ll forgive me for not being the most studious of Bible scholars, but I thought I’d post a couple of observations I made today when reading Acts 9:1-22 – today’s reading for the festival that is the Conversion of Paul. And here’s Acts 9:1-9, from which my observations have come:
Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?”Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”“I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,” came the reply. “Now get up and enter the city. You will be told what you must do.”Those traveling with him stood there speechless; they heard the voice but saw no one. After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank anything.
First, there’s the commonplace observation that by persecuting the believers, Saul is persecuting Jesus himself. But a parallel passage flashed through my mind: Matthew 25:31-46, the so-called parable of the sheep and goats. I subscribe to the view that ‘the least of these’ in Matthew here is a reference to the Church, so that the sheep and the goats within the parable are those who adopt different stances to the suffering people of Jesus. My first observation, then, about the Acts 9 passage is nothing too profound – it’s a simple recognition that the Church is included within the divine identity in some way, and that there is a consistency of thought between Matthew 25 and Acts 9.
My second observation might be obvious to some and strained for others, but I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s own death and resurrection when the text states that Saul was blind for three days and consumed nothing. If this reading isn’t too absurd or forced, then surely it’s possible to say that Saul’s own experience mirrored Jesus’s Easter Saturday emptiness in some way until he is ‘resurrected’ to new life as Paul the Apostle. Here, Saul himself is included within the divine identity, within Jesus’s own sufferings – and so the Church’s, too.