Powerful and violent persecutors of Christians have been around since before early followers of Jesus were called Christians. Saul of Tarsus aka Paul is perhaps the most famous early example. He positively breathed
"threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord".The church remembers his dramatic change of heart and life on 25 January.
This painting of the Conversion of Paul is by the Neapolitan 17th century painter Luca Giordano (1632 - 1705). It is striking for many reasons. Paul, his companions and their horses are all shown as immensely powerful - just look at their muscles.
The story from Acts 9: 1 - 20 tells how Paul was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus on special commission with authority to arrest followers of the Jesus' Way and bring them bound to Jerusalem to be dealt with. As his group approached Damascus a light from heaven flashed around Paul and he fell to the ground. The painter has conveyed the drama of this sudden event with a stormy sky apparently torn open and a blinding light focused directly on Paul as he lies on the ground.
Paul heard a voice calling him by name, asking, “Why do you persecute me?” The great turning point of Saul’s life came when he asked the identity of that voice and recognised the one he was persecuting as the Lord. Thanks to the help he received in Damascus from a Christian called Ananias his zeal for rooting out Jesus’ followers became enthusiasm for taking the good new of Jesus to the world.
25 January is also important for Scots as the day to celebrate Burns Night, usually by eating haggis (and drinking whisky). Here are some rather contrived connections between haggis, conversion and St Paul:
- Robert Burns called the haggis the chief of puddings. Paul called himself the 'chief of sinners'.
- Some people get intoxicated with whisky on Burns Night. Paul wrote 'be filled with the Spirit'.
- Burns Night helps unite people of Scottish identity. Paul called for 'unity of mind and purpose' for those who are members of one body in Christ.
- Haggis is made from offal, a type of humble food that is often ignored or despised. Paul would have been despised and distrusted by some Christians because of his persecuting past. (Thank God for Barnabas who advocated for him.)
- Haggis doesn't look attractive. It tastes much better than it looks. There are hints that Paul wasn't good-looking, but the substance of what God gave the world through him is really nourishing. Just read his letters, consider his missionary journeys and ask, what if Paul had not been converted?
Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia