On January 25, 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 that I already had, in a sense, known before, but had never seen 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 unifying 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:
Years ago I had this insight: The first written Scriptures of the New Testament were written at the command of Pontius Pilate: “What I have written (gegrapha) I have written (gegrapha)” (John 19:22). The fullness of Truth first written in mock, public revelation made known first as the rationale for the execution of God: “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews,” written in the sacred and secular languares of Jew and Gentile. That’s the word for Scripture, graphḗ — like Matthew 4:10, “for it is written (gegraptai).” Now I see something here, something new in new wineskins. My God, the first Scriptures of the new covenant were written by a Gentile, and an enemy. Inscribed into the heart of the Gospel, into the heartbeat of the Word and His life-giving Tree, is the new commandment of enemy-love that tears down all dividing walls and reconciles all things by the Lamb’s bloodshed (Col. 1:20). No wonder the chief priests objected: “Do not write (graphe), ‘The King of the Jews’…” (John 19:21). How could such a thing be the completion, the “it is finished” (John 19:30) of the sacred Scriptures? Again amazed: in this new covenant, this strange new economy, even men whose expedient ethic intends an innocent death can all at once be unwittingly 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. My God.
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. These words always make me shudder. 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 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.
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