St. Enemy

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On January 25, 2016, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, I had one of those insights that, when you get it, makes you suddenly see everything a bit differently. It’s an insight I’d already in some sense known before, but had never made this specific set of connections.

Orthodox theologian Fr. John Behr says that theology is the act of discovering in the “matrix of the Scriptures” the light that shines from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. That’s what this insight was for me. I wrote it down in my journal right after I read the account from Acts 9:1-19 of Saul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. If you can take the time, look up the Scripture passages I include. Here’s my journal entry:

The first written Scripture of the New Testament was written at the command of Pontius Pilate: “What I have written [gegrapha] I have written [gegrapha]” (John 19:22).

The fullness of Truth was first written in mock of God’s Son. Divine revelation chose to use for its “tablet” the Cross, with a parchment declaring treason as the rationale for having executed God: “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.” It was written in the sacred language of Hebrew and secular language of Greek, to Jew and Gentile. “What I have written” shares the same root word as Scripture, graphḗ – as in Matthew 4:10,  “for it is written [gegraptai].” 

My God, the first Scripture of the new covenant was written at the command of a Gentile, an enemy. Inscribed into the heart of the Gospel is the new commandment: “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).  Sacred Writ inscribed on the Cross that tears down all dividing walls, reconciling all things by the bloodshed of the Son (Col. 1:20). No wonder the chief priests objected: “Do not write [graphe], ‘The King of the Jews’…” (John 19:21).

Again amazed. In this new covenant a strange divine economy unfolds, as men who cherish expediency, intending an innocent death to achieve their goals, unwittingly unveil the most profound mystery of God’s mercy (John 11:49-51; Gen. 50:20). Like the Centurion who thrust his spear into the Heart of God to ensure His death, only to unseal the fountain of life for all creation.  

This is the heart of the mystery of mercy. My God.

How equally marvelous that Jesus would chose Saul, an enemy of the Way (Acts 9:4), to proclaim the Gospel of God’s mercy to the nations (cf 1 Tim. 1:16) and serve as the ambassador of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) whose core mission is to tear down the walls of hostility that stood between Jew and Gentile (cf. Eph 2:14).

How wonderful that God chose a blasphemer (1 Timothy 1:13) to serve as a vessel of inspiration for nearly half the New Testament, and a murderer (Acts 9:1) to proclaim the Gospel of life!

St. Paul’s revolutionary encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road seared in his mind the mind of Christ, who loves His enemies (cf Phil. 2:5-11). Who in fact reserved His sweetest display of love for those who spat in His face and brutalized His body (Luke 23:24; Rom. 12:20-21; Gal 3:13). 

St. Paul was equipped in a singular way to proclaim the “word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). In fact, the Cross emboldened him to articulate the most radical expression of selfless love found anywhere in Scripture. These words still make me shudder whenever I read them.  Speaking of his fellow Jews who had rejected Jesus as he once had, Paul said in Romans 9:3:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.

May Christ make me always gratefully aware that I also am, by Christ’s mercy, equally an enemy-made-friend (Romans 5:10). O Lord, fill me with the courage to live daily that same mercy toward my difficult neighbors. Amen.

But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Luke 6:27-28

15 comments on “St. Enemy

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this rich reflection. I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Perhaps you’ve never had this insight before because you’ve never been an outspoken know-it-all enemy of Christ. Had you been, as I had been, you would have felt that shame and pain seared in your bones upon conversion and Paul’s story would have been your surety that with God truly nothing is impossible, that what you have intended for harm, God intended for good (cf. Gen 50:20). Paul’s conversion is pure grace, and his nothingness of which he boasts doesn’t look like only true humility in comparison to so great a God, but reveals a kernel of promise that all his sins were truly wiped away. And this would have kept you from drowning more than once when the despair threatens to tow you under.

    It is easy (and much more comfortable) to be holy and pious and obedient in front of strangers and acquaintances with whom you have no history. But, for us Pauls it is much more powerfully evangelistic to be transformed into a completely new person among the ones who’ve seen your worst, who’ve seen your scars, who’ve been scarred by you. They know that something outside of you must have happened to have transformed you thus. Like the man from whom Jesus delivered the legion of demons: he begged Jesus to let him join Jesus’ posse and Jesus said no, but to stay in his village and to tell everyone what had happened to him.

    We are indeed all enemies invited to be intimate friends with the Lord of life. What hope! What joy! What good news!

    • Jennifer: Thank you for, through your “Had you been, as I had been,” and so joining Paul in confessing God’s mercy. And thank you for that Genesis 50:20 cf! It inspired me to re-write the second paragraph of this post. Seeing your life in the matrix of the Scriptures rocks. Pax, soror!

    • Thank you, Ona! This was for me, in terms of personal impact, one of the deepest theological insights I have ever had. Your word “beautiful” captures what it was for me perfectly.

      • Ona says:

        I’d never noticed the pattern! Certainly each of the moments you point to is profound in itself but to see the pattern is very ‘Wow!’. Or maybe ‘Whoa, dude!’ LOL. God is amazing, and so very generous.

      • LOL! Yes, you are right. Having four teens has done that to me, along with graying my hair… I rewrote Jesus’ saying: “Unless you become as an adolescent, you cannot enter adulthood.” I’m on my way, and hopefully God will give me sufficient time to make it…

    • I think, ‘Whoa, dude’ is far more expressive, so I am going with that… 🙂

      • Ona says:

        You are slowly turning into a teenager, Dr Tom! Hmmm. I don’t think Jesus specified an age range when He said we should become like children!

  2. Nos says:

    Small scale “j” I’m patiently waiting for soon to be best seller,,, I have a title for you ——- ” She Paul” what once was by GODS Grace is no more — for now anyway … ” as the good dochtah says. “J” you rock you and brother Dismas offer an insight in the struggles all have but are to ashamed to reveal as you two have.. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your teaching and honesty … your warmer southern brother in CHRIST nos…

    • And yours: “He’s St. Paul: This Man is On Fire” (hear Alicia Keys)

    • Jennifer says:

      It is roughly minus a zillion here today, so no doubt you are much warmer than me. Thank you for your encouragement, but trust me there is really no story other than this: I was dead in my sins and Christ rescued me. You can send the royalty cheques to the North Pole to my attention.

  3. Lisa Schmidt says:

    Wow. I also had an A-HA! on January 25. Certainly not as deep as yours, but still a spiritual a-ha nonetheless. Ready for my shameless plug? 🙂 Here: http://thepracticingcatholic.com/2016/02/18/saint-ananias-saint-who/

    • Thanks, Lisa! Now I will add St. Ananias to my list — never thought through that before. It’s a marvelous new vantage for me! Keep up your excellent work. Love to you, Deacon Joel and the fam!

  4. AMDG says:

    The abundant riches of this post!

    ..revealing the Gospel of the enemy-loving God of mercy (John 11:49-51; Gen. 50:20), who is “above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6). All! This is the heart of the mystery of mercy…
    How equally marvelous that Jesus chose Saul, an enemy (Acts 9:4), to proclaim the Gospel of agápē-love and mercy to the nations (cf 1 Tim. 1:16); to serve as the ambassador of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) whose core mission would be to effect Jesus’ own work of tearing down the walls of hostility that stood between Jew and Gentile (cf. Eph 2:14). How wonderful that God chose a blasphemer (1 Timothy 1:13) to serve as a vessel of inspiration for nearly half the New Testament; a murderer (Acts 9:1) to proclaim the Gospel of life. St. Paul’s revolutionary encounter with the Risen Jesus seared in his mind the mind of the enemy-loving Christ (cf Phil. 2:5-11), and equipped him in a singular way to be the preacher of the “word of the cross” (1 Cor. 1:18). This love of enemy (Rom. 12:20-21) was spoken from and embodied on the Cross (Luke 23:24; Gal 3:13). The cross emboldened Paul to express the most radical expression of selfless love found anywhere in Scripture…”For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.”

    I will keep pondering these words, hoping and praying that they sink deep into my depths.

    I read this post in relation to your “Quiet Desperation” posts. There is a tremendous suffering in seeing others’ inability to forgive me (and others) of my (our) wrongs. It is one thing to destroy in my own heart the root of unforgiveness; it is another altogether to love those who hate me for my wrongs (true and imagined, known and hidden) and the suffering those wrongs cause them. I am trying to learn what it means to love in these situations and how to beg a willingness to forgive into someone else’s heart.

    May Christ make me always gratefully aware that I also am equally an enemy-made-friend by Christ’s mercy (Romans 5:10)! O Lord, fill me with the courage to live daily by that same mercy toward others, to abide by that same mercy within which I at every moment live and move and have my being. Amen.

    Is there such a thing as an enemy-making-enemy-made-friend? How grateful I am to know God’s Mercy in my life and to entrust others to it for the almost-unforgiveable effects of my sins on the body. Maybe St. Paul will intercede for me so that I find his prayer welling up within my heart!

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