Been pondering the life of St. Paul recently – and particularly his apparent forsaking of his entire former life once he started following Jesus.
It occurs to me that this is a nonsense… much of his ministry was enabled by the fact he was such a strong theologian and understood the Jewish scriptures so thoroughly. His words had weight and authority because he was an expert on the law. And of course he made good use of his Roman citizenship, plus the fact he could speak Greek and Aramaic (and presumably Latin). One would imaging his tent-making skills weren’t learnt overnight either?
So this line of thought brought me to what happened on the Damascus Road. I suppose I’d always thought of it as being the big U-turn in Paul’s life. Like everything before in his life was thrown away as garbage, and only now was he truly living. But I’m not so sure this is the case – it seems to me that it’s not so much a U-turn as a course correction.
Paul had spent all his life to date studying the law, being a Jew among Jews, and was expectantly awaiting the Messiah and the fulfillment of scripture, the start of God’s majestic reign. So far so good. But then the Messiah actually comes – that is Jesus – and Paul doesn’t get it. In fact he reaches the only other possibly conclusion about Jesus and his followers, that they are evil (or mad), have deserted God, and are now a dangerous influence that needs stamping out. At this point he was earnestly and zealously pursuing what he thought was God’s plan…
… except of course he’d turned from truly following God (which would mean recognizing Jesus as the prophesied Messiah) – without realizing it. Jesus intervenes on the road to Damascus and says “Paul – hang on buddy. I am the Messiah you’ve been waiting for!”. This is no U-turn, but God stepping in and turning Paul back on the track he’d been following all his life, or at least up until the couple of years before that point.
Now I’m not saying this wasn’t a radical change of direction, and it certainly gave Paul a lot to think about, not least in terms of his understanding of God. But I see it as more the continuation of his life’s work, not a brand new start!