conversion—grace at work in the community

Baptism_of_St_Paul_-_Capela_Palatina_-_Palermo_-_Italy_2015

The Lord said to Ananias, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying. …Go for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.”

—Acts 9:11,15

The Acts of the Apostles narrates the conversion of St. Paul three separate times (in chapters 9, 22, and 26), which means that it is more than just an interesting story. Saul’s conversion had a huge impact on the early church, and the writer of the Acts of the Apostles wanted everyone to hear this story several times so that the message would sink in. This conversion story still has a huge impact on us today. Among other things it tells us that reaching out beyond our comfort zone is what Christians are called to do. It highlights the primacy of God’s grace in our lives, and at the same it showcases the fact that grace works through the members of the community.

When Ananias worked up the nerve to follow God’s instructions to go to the house of Judas and ask for Saul of Tarsus, he reached out to someone who until a few hours before posed a real threat to Ananias and his fellow Christians. At the same time, this Jew born and raised in the Roman city of Tarsus, educated in Jerusalem, was a real catch for the Christian community. Because of his background and education, Saul was perfectly positioned to bridge the cultural divides present in the first century Mediterranean world. Without losing his Jewish identity, Saul became a Christian and took the name Paul. He answered the summons to preach Jesus Christ “before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” But all of that would not have happened if Ananias had not been in an attentive conversation with the Lord in prayer. Each conversation with God in prayer, and each conversation we have with others about God, is an opportunity for grace to build bridges between us.

Saul’s conversion came about because God intervened powerfully in his life. But it was not a simple matter between Jesus and Paul. God’s grace involved Ananias and the other disciples in Damascus; and then it involved Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, and countless others. God’s grace sparks a conversation that spans generations until it reaches us. It is a conversation that changes hearts and lives.


Photo: Baptism of St. Paul, Capella Palatina, Palermo Italy (cropped)  © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro  / CC-BY-SA-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons