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The Conversion of Paul

By Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD.

Readings: Acts 26: 9 – 23; Psalm 67; Matthew 10: 16 – 22

Conversion and Cost

The gospel according to Matthew was written about 15 to 20 years after the death of Paul in Rome. The gospel passage we just heard could have been written with the apostle Paul in mind. The cost of apostleship, of spreading the good news of Christ the light of the world, was a cost Paul knew well.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was being held by the Roman governor Festus and had been called in to speak before King Agrippa and Bernice.  From the gospel: “You will be dragged before Governors and Kings.” (Matthew 10: 18)

Paul proceeded to tell them his story. Again, from the gospel: “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.”  (Matthew 10: 19) Paul spoke about the authority given to him from the chief priests to lock up believers. Paul had even cast his vote to condemn believers to death. He held the coats and looked on with approval as Stephen was stoned to death.  He pursued them in synagogues and tried to get them to blaspheme. He related that he was so furiously enraged at them that he pursued them even to foreign cities. It was on his way to Damascus when he experienced his remarkable transformation.

Conversion (from the Latin) can mean changing one’s religion or beliefs; or can be used to convey that one has repented and turned from sin back towards God and the godly life.  The Greek word, metanoia (μετάνοια), translated as conversion, means a transformative change of heart. Paul had been transformed from a persecutor of Christians to a champion for Christ.  Christ commissioned Paul to be an apostle to the gentiles, to open peoples’ “eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26: 18) Another Greek word which we translate as sin, hamartia (ἁμαρτία), means to miss the mark.  Paul is keen to help people who have missed the mark, those worshipping other gods, to repent and turn to God, as he had.  He had formerly missed the mark in persecuting Christians, and his experience on the road to Damascus put him back on the way, literally going from darkness to light.               

The week of prayer for Christian Unity falls between the two feasts of the Confession of Peter and the Conversion of Paul. Peter and Paul had been at odds and had come to an accord in Jerusalem: Peter would be the Apostle to the Jews and Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.  It is apt that these two saints bracket the week of prayer for Christian Unity: they found a way to work to spread the gospel even through their differences.  Paul would take the light of Christ to the world while seeing to the needs of the church in Jerusalem by raising funds. Both apostles ended up in Rome around the year 64 and were martyred, possibly under Emperor Nero.

Our good news today is that through Paul’s conversion and his ready acceptance of the cost of his apostleship, he spread the light of the gospel of Christ so far and wide that we are benefactors of that same gospel today.  Paul’s conversion experience was dramatic.  Ours may not have been as dramatic, but we experience that metanoia, that conversion, that change of heart, each time we ask for the light of Christ in our lives, take time to reflect on our day, repent, and turn back to the way of Christ. 

Thanks be to God.