“When we hear the word “conversion,” we usually think of a great sinner who abandons a sinful life and becomes a good person. Paul was actually not a bad person. When he persecuted the Church, he did it out of zeal for God and his religion.” Some are still questioning, “Was Paul converted or called?” Many Biblical Scholars have been dealing with this question. There is no clear answer whether Paul was called or converted. But one thing that most of the Scholars agree is that Damascus Event has a crucial role in Paul’s life.
However, Damascus Event or what happened to Paul on the way to Damascus was one of many scenes that colored Paul’s entire journey. By centering my reflection on Damascus Event, I would like to view it in a holistic way of Paul’s life. Three words that somehow can summarize my reflection are: orientation, disorientation and reorientation.
Paul grew up in Jewish tradition where religious values became part of his life. He followed the religious instructions through the readings of Scripture and the prayers in the worship every Sabbath. Like many other young boys in his time, they were expected to learn large portions of the Pentateuch. In this sense, we can understand why Paul learned with passion about the Torah under the guidance of Gamaliel. From this school, Paul was convinced that the law was permanent and cannot be abolished by any other things. Thus, he followed the rule strictly and held on it as the only guidance of his life. This law helped him to orient his life into the right path.
In this context, it was difficult for Paul to accept that “Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the rules” which was proclaimed by early Christian community. Thus, he dedicated his life to defend God’s law from dangers. He started killing the follower of Jesus for the sake of the law. ”Acts describes that Paul as being intent on destroying the Christians, entering the homes where their house churches met, drugging them off to prison, both man and women (8:3).” Paul did it out of his belief in God’s law.
It was on the way to Damascus that Paul entered into a moment of crisis. It seemed that some voices have been emerging from his heart. The voice kept urging him to continue his mission to kill the Christians. But, there was another voice that probably from his teacher Gamaliel who didn’t agree with Paul who persecuted the follower of Christ. These two voices constantly “disturbed” him on the way to Damascus. Yet, Paul was still believed that he has chosen the right decision by persecuting Jesus’ followers in order to save his religion from dangers.
It was on the way to Damascus that another voice came upon Paul’s life. That voice suddenly and strongly enter into the bottom of his heart, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. This voice was so powerful and made Paul unable to decide but fall into ground, close his eyes and asking “who are you Lord? In this moment Paul does not know where he will go and who is calling him? He enters into a moment of disorientation of his life.
On the way of Damascus, Jesus asks Paul to enter the city where he will find the guidance to reorient his life. Jesus said “but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” In Damascus city, Ananias reaffirmed Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. This is the moment where a radical change took placed in Paul’s life and reorient his life with Jesus and for Jesus alone.
As we celebrate the “conversion” of St. Paul, we are invited to orient our life to an ongoing conversion.