Today’s reading from Acts reminds me that Paul was a fierce opponent of Jesus followers and to his colleagues and contemporaries, his conversion was more than confusing, it was disruptive and threatened their power base. They had relied on Saul (Paul) to target enemies of Israel’s state and to prosecute them. The lectionary has us in the final chapters of the Book of Acts and here, Paul is explaining how zealous he was in pursuing Christians:
9 ‘Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth.* 10And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. 11By punishing them often in all the synagogues I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
Today’s reading follows a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures – the Book of Micah, where we hear the minor prophet lamenting the Hebrew’s slide back into chaos – having chosen to follow the politically powerful at the time (Kings) over abiding by God’s will and worshiping the one, holy living God of all. They have abandoned God and are yet again living in a state of disorder and disorientation.
Juxtaposed, I am paused to wonder – and lament – at how familiar it all sounds. A country that has abandoned God and God’s will be done – America was founded and grounded in Judeo-Christian principles (separation between Church and State does not mean eliminating faith from from state) – with zealots pursuing God-fearing citizens. I wonder about state leaders who fuel the flames of fury against their own citizens with reckless rhetoric. To what purpose?
I wonder, too, who among the leaders of this time pursuing citizens unjustly, who among them God will touch to lead others out of this chaos. Is there a Paul among them?
I am paused to think on these things as I greet another day in Malta where Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome to meet the emperor face to face, pleading his case as we read in today’s section of Acts. He was traveling with his pal (press agent?) Luke, who reported it all in the gospel of his name, and in the Book of Acts. I wonder if there’s such an able companion to someone like Saul-Paul in the American political landscape right now – someone who will encourage the person toward right action and communicating with measured rhetoric their efforts to put all things State back into right relationship with Church (God). Throughout the biblical story, God sends such encouragers and companions to those he taps to step out and lead.
My prayer, today, is that a Paul emerge on the American political landscape. Perhaps there is already one in our midst.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.