This is perhaps one of the most significant conversions of Christian history.
St Paul, who had been one of the greatest persecutors of Christians, became one of its greatest apostles. His conversion is recounted in the Acts of Apostles (9:1-22)
“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” Acts 9:1-9
After this event he was baptised by a Christian disciple named Ananias and regained his sight. He was then called Paul and through baptism, Paul truly said, “yes” to God.
On the road to Damascus the Risen Lord spoke to him and the grace of God touched him. “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” 1 Cor 15: 9 -11
St Ephrem in his commentary on this event focuses on God’s great humility. “For Saul was journeying to subdue the disciples with hard words, but the Master of the disciples subdued him with a humble word. For when He to whom all things are possible manifested Himself to him, giving up all things else, He spoke to him in humility alone, that He might teach us that a soft tongue is more effectual than all things else against hard thoughts. For neither threats nor words of terror were heard by Paul, but weak words not able to avenge themselves: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me”
St. Ephrem emphasises that it is the humility of God which transformed Saul. In the face of Saul’s threats and murder, God speaks to him gently asking him why he is doing these things to him. Gently he allows him to examine his conscience and come to his senses. By killing and persecuting Christians, Saul was killing and murdering the Lord himself.
People are not converted through hostility and threats. They are converted through the gentle word of God and humility. By meeting each person where they are, they will come to themselves. The Lord can touch the hardest of hearts and it is not through threats or violence, rather it is in humility, patience and love.
St Paul went on to convert many people, both Jews and Gentiles. His Epistles form a large part of the New Testament Scriptures.
May we all be touched by the grace of God and may the truth of the Risen Lord be revealed to all those around us, especially those with hardened hearts. Let us be inspired by the story of St Paul’s conversion never to give up hope on anyone and to continue in humility. Let us never lose hope for anyone. Everything is possible with the Lord!