Today is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. This is an event with which we are all familiar. Paul (then Saul), a persecutor of Christians, is on his way to Damascus when “a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.” At that, Saul falls to the ground and hears a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” When he asks who is speaking to him, he hears, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus continues with instructions, which Saul follows.
What is it about the appearance of Jesus that converts Saul from his life of persecuting Christians to becoming one of the great preachers of Christianity. Heather King offers this thought,
Christ never cuts us down with a gun or sword. He looks at us with love….He looks us in the eye with love and says, “Why are you persecuting me?”
To be forgiven when we know we don’t “deserve” to be forgiven is radically transformative in a way violence can never be. To be forgiven does another kind of violence: to our whole tit-for-tat notion of crime and punishment. To be forgiven makes us realize that, unbelievable as it may seem, God needs us for something. We have a mission.
In Jesus words, Paul hears, not condemnation, but love and forgiveness. And in that look and voice of love and forgiveness is invitation – invitation to conversion, to transformation. Invitation to mission.
As it was for Paul, the invitation is there for each of us.