“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
It is easy to identify with the early Christians. Which of us has not felt vulnerable solely due to the practice of our faith? Some of us have been ridiculed for observing meatless Fridays during Lent, or avoiding bread and grain products during Passover, or daytime fasting during Ramadan.
It is much more difficult, however, to identify with Saul, a man so hateful and destructive that the early Christians feared his very name. Most of us, instead, prefer to identify with the converted Saul (or Paul, as he came to be otherwise known), a man who would later be awarded the same martyrdom he tendered towards the early Christians.
I thought about this, off and on, while I attended a history competition with my family. As we sat around the dinner table afterwards, my youngest excitedly told me about seeing a student she recognized, who had left the school at the end of the previous year. I, too, remember the young lady; she was polite and smart and friendly.
“Why did she leave?” I asked, quite innocently.
There was a bit of silence around the table. Finally my wife broke the silence.
“Well, they were the family, you know, whose parents developed an – unorthodox lifestyle – word got around among her classmates’ parents – and among the other parishioners in our church – she was teased unmercifully.”
“So they switched to public school,” my daughter added in a matter-of-fact tone.
The actual situation is probably much more complex than the one I heard about second-hand. She probably had other reasons for leaving. The family probably could have – should have – “toughed it out.” (Builds character, right?)
But it does make me think that maybe – just maybe – persecution is not just a Roman-Early Christian phenomenon.
Maybe it’s happening right here, right now, right under our noses.
Maybe it begins with a statement like, “I can’t believe those _________ . . .” Fill in the blank with the first ethnic or religious group that comes to mind. (Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long.)
Will it take a flash of light and three days of blindness for Jesus to catch our attention? In Jesus’ own words, if we are persecuting someone – anyone – we are persecuting Him.
Today, let’s listen closely for those words with the blanks. Perhaps they will creep into a conversation among friends, or perhaps they will cross our minds as we watch the evening news, or maybe as we are driving or riding home from work.
On these occasions we have a choice. Do we follow the way of Saul of Tarsus? Or do we follow the way of the converted Paul?
One path consists of waging intimidation and harassment. The other is the path of humility and solidarity.
Which one will we choose today?
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