St. Paul, whom Christ struck blind

Sometimes God uses a drastic method to get our attention. That’s what happened to an awful man named Saul.

Born c. AD 5 in the Mediterranean city of Tarsus (in today’s south-central Turkey), Saul was a Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin, whose father and grandfather were Pharisees. The Pharisees claimed prophetic or Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish laws. Though a Jew, Saul was by privilege a Roman citizen.

An approximate contemporary of the twelve Apostles, Saul neither followed nor even saw Jesus preach. Instead, being a zealot for Jewish law and traditions, he saw Jesus’ disciples as enemy and dedicated himself to the persecution of the early Christians, most notably the killing by stoning of St. Stephen.

When Saul was in his late 20s, as he was approaching Damascus from Jerusalem on a mission to arrest all Christian Jews in Damascus, he and his company were struck by a great light. Falling to the ground. Saul alone heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul asked the voice to identify himself. The voice answered, “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.”

Trembling, Saul cried out, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” The resurrected Christ told Saul that in Damascus, he would learn what would be expected of him.

As Saul got off the ground, he realized he had become blind. He was led to Damascus where, for three days, he remained blind and neither ate or drank.

Like all genuine encounters with God — including our own, should we be so graced — Saul’s dramatic confrontation with the risen Christ changed him forever. Now renamed Paul (which means “little”), not only did he stop persecuting Christians, he became a devoted follower of Christ, arguably the most influential early Christian missionary. Perhaps even more important, Paul developed the first Christology — doctrines and theories of the meaning of believing in Jesus Christ.

Imagine the radical changes in thought and belief that Saul’s conversion required. He had to change not only his Jewish conception of who the messiah was, particularly the absurdity to Jews of a crucified messiah, but also the belief in the ethnic superiority of the Jewish people.

More importantly, more than any of Christ’s disciples, it was Paul who fully understood that, by His incarnation, death and resurrection, Jesus replaced the covenant of the Old Testament with a new covenant. This was made clear by Jesus Himself in the Last Supper:

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11.25; cf. Mt 26.27-29; Mk 14.24, Lk 22.20; Heb 8.6, 9.15).

Henceforth, God’s chosen are all who “take up their cross” and follow Jesus the Christ. In other words, what once was a tribal religion — Judaism — is now superseded by the universal faith of Christianity.

Paul was indefatigable in bringing the Word of Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. Through his missionary activity and writings he eventually transformed religious belief and philosophy around the Mediterranean Basin. His leadership, influence and legacy led to the formation of communities dominated by Gentile groups who worshiped the God of the ancient Jews, adhered to the Mosaic moral code of the Ten Commandments, but relaxed or abandoned Judaism’s ritual and dietary teachings since these laws and rituals had either been fulfilled in the life of Christ or were symbolic precursors of Christ.

That is why St. Paul is called the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Without the work of Paul, formerly the sinful Saul of Tarsus, you and I might not be Christians.

Paul’s missionary travels — preaching and establishing Christian nodes and communities — can be grouped into three. As seen in the map below, he traversed the Mediterranean region, in a time when travel was arduous, laborious and dangerous.

~Click map to enlarge~

The 14 letters (Epistles) attributed to Paul in the New Testament were written during ten years of his missionary journeys. It is possible that Paul also traveled to other countries like Spain and Britain. Among the writings of early Christians, Clement of Rome said that Paul was “Herald (of the Gospel of Christ) in the West” and that “he had gone to the extremity of the west.”

Paul was beaten, arrested and imprisoned on more than one occasion. Neither the Bible nor other sources say how or when Paul died, but Ignatius wrote around A.D. 110 that Paul was martyred. According to Christian tradition, St. Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero, on June 29, AD 67 — the same day as St. Peter was crucified upside down.

June 29, therefore, is the joint feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Shortly before he was martyred, St. Paul had written to St. Timothy these famous words:

“I am even now ready to be sacrificed, and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. As for the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord, the just judge, will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love His coming.”

For all these reasons — the sinful, pre-conversion Saul; the post-conversion Paul who turned his back on his past and devoted the rest of his life to Jesus; the Apostle to the Gentiles who taught us about Jesus’ New Covenant; the author of all those letters that teach and inspire “so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see”; the saint who so loves Jesus that he joyfully went to his martyrdom — I love St. Paul with all my heart. I can only hope that, should our time darken to the point when Christians are persecuted as in the days of the early Church, I too will have his courage to “finish my course,” “keep my faith,” and stand “ready to be sacrificed.”

I now conclude this post with my favorite passage — St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 6:10-16:

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Sources used:

  • One Hundred Saints (Little, Brown and Co., 1993).
  • Rosemary Ellen Gulley, The Encyclopedia of Saints (NY: Visionary Living, 2001).
  • St. Paul,” Catholic Online.
  • Paul the Apostle,” Wikipedia.

~Eowyn

6 responses to “St. Paul, whom Christ struck blind

  1. Pingback: St. Paul, whom Christ struck blind — Fellowship of the Minds | kommonsentsjane

  2. Kevin J Lankford

    I think few people truly do grasp the relevance of Paul’s letters and its their message for the gentiles, which means most of use. With out them there was no real hope or place for the gentile.

    According to Paul we are saved by grace alone through our belief in his message that Jesus Christ was the finale sacrifice for all. Faith alone is all that is necessary. Even baptism is not necessary for us according to Paul. The Ten Commandment have no power over us, as they are dead to us. nor can our works save us. Placing ourselves under the law of the Ten Commandments is to deny the crucifixion of our Christ was enough to cover all our sins.

    Lest any one take the wrong message from Paul’s letters, true faith does work a change in ones conscience. A change that guides one to instinctively strive to honor the values of the Ten Commandments. Grace is certainly not a grant to do what one wishes.

    I believe Churches may purposely confound people using the Old Testament and Jesus messages for Israel, which he meant to be a nation of priests for the world (in which they failed their calling), confusing people as to whether they should adopt Jewish customs, making it harder to understand the messages of Paul. Paul message leads one to question the merit of organized religion on the scale of the roman catholic church. To me, it seems to mimic the old temple of pharisees and sadducees that caused the death of Christ.

    Like

    • St. Paul did not teach that baptism was not necessary, or that works mean nothing when it comes to our own salvation, that we are saved by faith alone. Indeed and in fact, St. Paul taught to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Salvation is a process. And the Bible sets forth that not everyone who has a relationship with Jesus will be saved. (Matt. 7:21; Phil 2:12; Matt 24:13; Rom11:22; 1 Cor 9:27; 1 Cor. 10:11-12; Gal 5:4; 2 Tim 2:11-13; Heb 6:4-6; Heb 10: 26-27.). Jesus taught that it isn’t enough to just believe in Him, that we must do the Will of the Father. (Matt 7:21; Matt 19:16-17; John 14:21. We’ll be judged upon what we do, not just upon what we believe. (Rom 2:2-8); Gal 5:4-6; Eph 2: 8-10; Phil 2:12-13; Jam 2:14-24; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Cor 11:15; 1 Pet 1:17; Rev. 20:12-13; Col 3:24-25.

      And even if we speak from common sense and logic alone, if St. Paul taught us that we are saved by faith alone, why would he have worked so hard to bring the Gospel, Jesus’ teachings, about how we should live, to the entire world, especially to the Gentile world, suffering from beatings, torture, imprisonment and terrible persecutions, all the while teaching that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (emphasis added), giving extreme warnings to watch how we live.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Strictly a TOP-NOTCH article, Dr. Eowyn! St. Paul was, if I understand history correctly, an accessory to the stoning of St. Stephen: He held Stephen’s assassins cloaks. I also understand he was, for all practical purposes, a terrorist, and some historians believe he may have been responsible for the deaths of over 10,000 Christians.

    Yet Who can understand the Mind of God, who chose this man and converted him? Who can fathom it? I cannot. Yet convert Saul God did—with Saul’s consent—and he went on to change the History of the entire World. Without any press, without any electronic media. And the martyrdom of Sts. Peter and Paul demonstrate a real solid truth about our human nature, namely, that people, when cornered, WILL die for what they believe to be the Truth. It is this willingness to die for the Truth, guided by the Will of God, that made Christianity spread. And the sociologically and historically documented truth is this, Namely, that Christianity is the ONLY PHENOMENON in all of History that, the more it is persecuted, THE MORE IT GROWS.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. THANK YOU for reminding me of my “base.” (!!!!) I was immediately “transported” to the days of my youth, listening to the “letters from St. Paul” from sermons and our youth fellowship meetings…..As much as St. Peter was the “rock” of the church……St. Paul was the ROCK of its congregations to come……..

    Liked by 1 person

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