Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus (Acts 9:1-8).
Conversion happens. Conversion as God’s wonder happens time after time in an encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ. The 2018 Week of prayer for Christian unity ended yesterday, appropriately, with the celebration of the Conversion of St. Paul. In the story of Paul’s conversion, the real hero is the Risen Jesus because it was Paul’s encounter with Jesus that makes the change and the difference just as the warmed heart experience, the epoch-making event of John Wesley, for Methodism, and for the Nation on May 24th 1738. It was not John Wesley, but his confession and description of ‘the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt l did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’
St Augustine’s conversion as recorded in his autobiography known as The Confessions also points to ‘divine revelation that come to us in the form of a story because God’s dealings with us are narratively shaped rather than theoretically driven.’ The reflection is that the conversion of Paul, Wesley, Augustine came in form of a realisation that they ‘needed not a system or a theory, but a story, a true story, not a theoretical analysis of truth or of theories of truth. The true story was their embrace of the gospel as the truth and allowing the story to shape their own stories, trusting it to be a reliable guide for interpreting our past and navigating our future.
The conversion of Paul, Wesley and Augustine summons us to discover the gospel’s power. For example, Augustine discovered the gospel’s power to knit together the disjointed phrases of his life in such a way that he could perceive them as episodes in a story, much older than his own, of a restless quest for God. God shattered Augustine’s deafness and “drove away his blindness” for him to discover his true self through the lens of the gospel: ‘all of the fads that characterised his early life were now seen as episodes in the single story of a life questing for God.’ Conversion experience is a call to us to allow God to shatter our spiritual deafness and drive away our blindness to the truth of the gospel. What an historian said summarised the essence of conversion: ‘The birthday of a Christian was already shifted from his baptism to his conversion, and in that change the partition-line of two great systems is crossed.’ The conversion experiences like that of Paul, Wesley and Augustine points to the extraordinary wonders and learning about God, in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, hence forgiveness and conversion are possible for you and me (Jn 3:16).
Our confession of Jesus as the Rock of our salvation points to him as the anchor for the foundation of the Church and the bedrock of church health and growth. Our conversion is not just about our story but ‘Jesus who has the vision and shares that vision of what the Church and its mission might be.’ In conversion like that of Paul, Augustine and Wesley, Jesus instead took their gifts of zeal and persuasion, and puts them to work for the Gospel. Conversion renews our natural gifts of zeal, profession and persuasion and put them to work to rescue the perishing and saving the dying. Conversion as God’s wonder that makes Christianity to stand out summons us to a radical understanding of both the calling of the church, the people, and the gospel, the good news for all the people’s of the earth. Conversion as God’s wonder points us to a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us hence, the need for us to witness to God’s mighty acts and His steadfast love. Our witness guides and increases us in our prayer, Christian faith, and discipleship.
The testimony of Paul’s conversion suggests a “call” from God to you and me, a commissioning, if you will, to preach a gospel of God’s forgiveness and reconciling love for all people, ‘to break down the walls that separate Jew from Greek, slave from free, male from female.’ Conversion as God’s initiative usually interrupts our personal agenda and lifestyle like Paul who was changed from violence against the gospel to taking on a mission that includes suffering on behalf of the gospel. A man of violence transformed into a missionary for God. To reshape and renew our identity, conversion as God’s wonder calls for repentance and to preach a message of breaking down barriers and extending the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.
Prayer: Let us pray that God make us one in the likeness of Jesus Christ and that the Church may preach the Gospel to every creature, set forth the truth that frees all humanity, and so lift up your love that every nation and people may be drawn together into your glory:
Let us pray that the Church may remember the sheep that are not of the fold, seek out the wandering and the lost, proclaim the forgiveness of sins to the penitent, keep a heart of compassion for all people, and defend the cause of the poor and the oppressed.