For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Acts 9:19b-21 (NRSV)
There has been a small yet intense debate among local historians and traditionalists in our little town over recent months. The debate concerns the wife of our town’s founder or, more specifically, the spelling of her name. The town has always held that her name was spelled “Mareah,” but archival evidence suggest that her name was always spelled “Maria” on legal documents and the spelling change seems to have occurred in her adult years. It is now believed that the change occurred around the time of a major shift in her life: the death of her husband and her subsequent marriage to a younger man who was the age of her son. And so, the debate quietly continues regarding how we should spell her name today.
The rather meaningless debate has been a quiet reminder to me that things change. We all go through dramatic changes in life. Life’s journey can take abrupt and unexpected turns, especially when you’re on a faith journey.
Today’s chapter chronicles one of the most dramatic and unexpected turns in history. Saul of Tarsus was a radical and conservative Jewish leader intent on persecuting, imprisoning, and/or killing any man or woman who claimed to be a follower of Jesus. Then, on his way to round up some Jesus followers in the town of Damascus, Jesus reveals Himself to the zealous persecutor. In one dramatic moment, Saul’s life takes an abrupt u-turn.
Things change. Saul would become Paul. His life would never be the same. The persecutor of Jesus followers would unexpectedly become their greatest champion. For the rest of his life he would push himself to incredible physical and spiritual limits, ceaselessly suffer the persecution he’d once afflicted on others, and constantly proclaim that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. Paul would change the course of human history.
Things change. People change. It was at the core of everything that Jesus taught. Fishermen became fishers of men. Enemies become friends. Hatred is transformed into love. Anger and bitterness yield to grace and kindness. Sin is washed away by forgiveness. Darkness is pierced by Light. Death is swallowed up by Life. Saul the executioner becomes Paul the evangelist.
You and I, we can change, too.