I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
Notice Jesus did not tell Saul he was a sinner. Jesus did not present a plan of salvation for Saul. Jesus said something more akin to ‘hey Saul, why are you fighting me? We have work to do and you’re hurting the cause and yourself.’ I think this is very soft-touch from Jesus for a man who was imprisoning Jewish Christ-followers.
Jesus already thought Saul was suppose to be a part of the mission. But presently Saul was not helping. I like the idea of Jesus quickly sweeping past Saul’s objections and blindness. Paul, the new Saul, needed blindness so that he may see. I believe many of us who have been around the church for a good long while should be knocked down and blinded so we may see that Jesus is more for us than we imagine. Jesus thinks we are a part of his team, his mission. We don’t. We keep asking thick obtuse questions, “Who are you?” Jesus replies, “Come on! You know me! I need you to get on with your calling, your work. Let’s go.”
This is not an obedience issue. It is atheism. We do not believe in Jesus, just the same way Saul did not believe in Jesus. But Jesus believed in Saul. But Saul thought he knew better than Jesus what was the work and mission of Jesus. This is the religious false self: “seeing but blind, hearing but deaf.”
Jesus said to [the Pharisees], “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:41)
Paul’s calling discloses a very generous Jesus. God is more generous than most of us. Take for instance, the 87th Psalm:
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
Philistia too, and Tyre, with Ethiopia--
“This one was born there,” they say.
Really? Babylon knows God? The Philistines are God’s children? Tyre and Ethiopia? They are all born in Zion, in other words ‘God’s house.’ My Christian upbringing told me the Philistines were bad. Those we think of poorly, those we judge as ‘outside’ may be God’s children more than we care to affirm. Why are we kicking against the goads of God? God is goading us to love and care. But we would rather split apart and judge others.
In our own times, I wonder what American Christian can share Jesus with a Palestinian, a Syrian, an Iraqi or Iranian. Apparently Christians in the West are supposed to have enemies. But like the old monk living in Syria these days said, “We are Christians. We have no enemies.” The only enemies of Jesus were the religious “blind,” the Pharisees. The Samaritans were not enemies. Even the Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was not a first-class enemy, but God was using him (John 19:11). Imagine what it would be like to try and share the Gospel with someone in Hamas: “We hate you, and you hate me. I want you to know that Jesus loves you. I want you to become like me.” I think he has. Neither has Jesus however.
We need a generous Gospel. I think Acts chapters two, four, and ten reveal that ethnic distinctions were the first boundary to come down. Economic status was there too. Galatians 3:28 expresses the lack of distinction – “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” Paul’s letter to Galatians and Ephesians are letters of generosity toward the gentiles.
I will not think of Paul as converted any more. Knocked on his butt by Jesus: yes. I am picturing Caravaggio’s “Conversion of Saint Paul” (1601). But not converted. Jesus just corrected and told him to go out and be a key player in the game. “Embrace me and your true calling – Paul.” May we embrace a very generous Christian family. May we think of our “enemies” as children of God. May all of us get knocked down and blinded so that we may see.