An early 1900s bible illustration of Saint Paul being arrested. Photo/Public domain []

Today’s villain, tomorrow’s saint

  • April 23, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 3 (Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)

Small wonder that Saul — later Paul — was feared by the Jerusalem community. They wanted nothing to do with him, for he had terrorized the community of believers in Christ relentlessly. By his own admission in his letters, Paul had hunted them down and arrested them, voting in favour of the death penalty at their trials.

Now he stood in their midst asking them to believe something outrageous — that he was now one of them and was a zealous believer in Christ. They reacted to his presence in the same way that we might to a member of ISIS showing up at Sunday Mass.

But Saul/Paul was a changed man, not by his own doing but by his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He had been knocked to the ground and blinded for three days. Many of us might relate to that — sometimes God needs drastic measures to get someone’s attention and set them on a new path.

There are times when the world as we know it gets turned upside down and inside out, leaving us bewildered and confused. These experiences can be the moment of grace working in our lives, but we need to listen to the voice of the Spirit in order to be led in a new direction.

People do change, sometimes radically, but often other people will not accept these changes. They have too much invested in their image and opinion of the person in question, believing that they have them labelled and all figured out.

Until the end of his life, many continued to view Paul with suspicion and hostility.

Paul followed where the Spirit led and became one of the greatest apostles of all time. He still had many of his faults — his anti-Christian intolerance and over the top zeal found new expression in his ministry. Paul had been and remained a difficult and contentious man, but even his weaknesses could now be harnessed for God’s purposes. It is wise not to judge a person by where they are at a particular moment in their lives, for the play is not over until the curtain comes down.

Today’s hero might be tomorrow’s villain, and today’s sinner or low-life might be tomorrow’s saint. God is always at work, and we need to step back and allow this marvellous and holy work to unfold.

The author of 1 John had the same intuition: God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Our own knowledge, even (especially!) self-knowledge, is so limited. We judge others and ourselves by what we think we know — and are usually wrong.

Abiding in Christ and obeying His commandment to love is the path to God, and love expresses itself in action or deeds — it’s not enough to talk about it.

Love is also expressed in truth, when truth is understood as a harmony between what we profess to believe and our words, thoughts and actions.

Throughout John’s Gospel, images of nourishment, sustenance and water were used to convey the role of Jesus in our lives. All of these images converge on the image of the vine, used to illustrate the transforming power of the Spirit. Jesus called on His followers to abide, dwell and remain in Him, not just now and then but 24/7. As long as they put on His mind and heart and continued to live in Him and through Him, they would be constantly sustained and transformed by the Spirit. It is when we abide

in Christ that we can be said to be living and loving in truth, an unfeigned reflection of Jesus Himself.

There is a dark warning: when the branch is severed from the vine, it is no longer connected to its life-giving source so it withers and dies.

This is a good description of spiritual decay that occurs through laxness and inattention to the life of the Spirit. One might not notice anything awry at first and may continue to go through the motions of religiosity. But gradually a hollow feeling and a sense of unease, dissatisfaction or sadness can set in as spiritual growth diminishes. Something precious has been lost, but it can be found again the moment we turn wholeheartedly to the Lord and return to the path illuminated for us by Jesus.

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