Hi, My Name Is...
All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” ~Acts 9:21
One of my absolute favorite people in Scripture is Paul. We get to know him in the New Testament pretty intimately and lean into his powerful letters feeling his importance in Jesus’ mission just oozing from the pages. But, who was Paul? Considering he wasn’t one of the initial chosen disciples, what made him so important that the New Testament is full of his words? That all of the Christians looked to him for guidance and behavior or ordinance modification?
Paul was carefully chosen for each and every one of us. He is me, he is you, he is one of the most human humans in all of the Bible. He persecuted followers of Christ. This man captured then allowed those that followed Christ to be tortured and murdered. It goes further than that though. The definition of persecution is a program to “exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, or racial group”. He seethed with hate and made it his mission in life to do this. I can picture this incredibly intense person who almost spits when he talks about the early Christians. He not only has blood on his hands but he wants more and will not rest until he is able to rid the world of this apostasy.
So he is sent to hell. Oh wait, that’s not what happened at all. He is chosen by Jesus to help all of us recognize the mercy of God (!).
We’ve seen people like him while we’re out and about. The woman yelling at the waiter, the man riding the bumper of the car in front of him, the child teasing or bullying the other relentlessly. Especially in this day and age people are being captured on video every day portraying this guise of neighborhood watch. You see the fire in their eyes, the tension in their body. You feel the intensity of their being. We’ve been told to walk away from people like that but Jesus didn’t walk away. He met him right where he was and when he wasn’t expecting it. He did so in a way that met his intensity, met his fire but did so in a way that wasn’t going to aggravate. He got his attention. He didn’t allow for the forceful reaction. Jesus is the light and showed up just as that. So bright of a light that it stopped Paul in his tracks and blinded him. What poetic justice that Jesus showed Paul exactly what Paul was and what Jesus was in this gesture of unity.
He is chosen by Jesus to help all of us recognize the mercy of God.
Paul was the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. This ugly larva that tears apart the ripe fruit of a citrus tree. That molts an impressive five times before preparing itself to transform into the largest and most impressive of all butterflies.
Paul had several steps in his conversion, each time shedding a part of who he had been. Jesus even changed his name from Saul in a manner of rebirth. You aren’t who you were before. So much are you different that we can’t call you by your old name.
If you change your ways there is no separation between you and God. We are the ones that place this separation even though we may or may not realize it. But with patience and perseverance God makes His way back into our hearts. Only He can break through all of those layers. There is a poignancy in all of this initially. Losing who you have been. The fear, the regret, the shame, the concerns of will I be taken seriously? Will I be able to do this? Will I be successful? God says yes. What it will bring you may not be where you imagined. I imagine Paul didn’t see ahead to how his life would be and end but his incredible zeal and passion shows that it was good. We can all learn from St. Paul and allow ourselves to soften and to rest. As he says in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own [will], is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. He captured his entire transformation and all that he learned in this one statement.
May God lead all of us to Him just as He led St. Paul.
About: Sosie Matosian resides in Virginia with her husband, three children and two dogs. She has her degree in Biblical Studies from University of Northwestern with additional emphasis and certificate in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. She is passionate about sharing her faith with others and brings a personal perspective to the struggles one might face in their journey walking to and with Christ.