The painting of the conversion of St. Paul above is by Carvaggio.
We’ve heard this story so often: Saul, the scourge of the Christians, struck blind on the road to Damascus, and hearing the voice of the risen Christ asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” It is one of the most famous conversion stories in human history.
If Paul can be welcomed into the church, so can you. So can any of us.
But, perhaps we’ve heard the story so often that it has lost its bite. Imagine, rather, Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, converting to Judaism. What if Richard Dawkins converted to Catholicism? Imagine the headlines and the unrest and the suspicion that might follow such moves.
Suspicious is how many of the early Christians had to feel about Saul’s conversion both in religion (Judaism to Christianity) and name (Saul to Paul.) He not only held the cloaks of the men who stoned the deacon Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to death, but he then went house to house, ferreting out Christians and turning them over to the Roman authorities. (You can read about it here in Acts 7:54-8:3.) Luke writes in the account that Saul “was trying to destroy the church.”
His conversion is part of that story, for Saul was on the way to Damascus with the intention of hunting down any Christians who had escaped capture in Jerusalem on the day of Stephen’s murder.
Once struck blind, Saul was taken to the home of some local Christians, who cared for him and prayed over him. His sight was restored and, as the apostle Paul, he was from that day until his martyrdom, a faithful and persistent witness for Christ.
Perhaps you have gone down a long way down the wrong road. Perhaps you have committed grave sins. You wonder if there is any hope for you, any turning around. (For that is what “conversion” means, to “turn around,” “do a 180,” and get on the right road.) Cling to Paul. He never tries to hide his past crimes, but neither does he use them as an excuse not to live the life to which Christ has called him. Paul describes himself in a letter to the Church in Galatia, “I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” But the whole of the rest of his life he devotes without fear or apology to the cause of Christ.
If Paul can turn to Christ, so can you. So can any of us. If Paul can be welcomed into the church, so can you. So can any of us. As my four year old said after listening to Justin Bieber, “It’s never too late to say sorry.”
Rejoice in this conversion and join in.