As we venture into the Lenten season, let us consider Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Nobody wants to change. We are as we are because we like being like this. Or because we’re used to it. Sameness is familiar and comforting, and it suits us. It affirms we were right the first time. No one wants to contemplate the possibility of being wrong.
Behold what it means to discover yourself dead wrong! Smack in the middle of a driving religious conviction, Paul smashes into total error, complete system failure. He’d been convinced Jesus was the blasphemy and imagined himself the purging sword of God. Paul was also sure Jesus was crucified, died, and was history. Wrong on both counts.
Zealous, high-minded Paul runs into the Risen Lord like a brick wall, and it shatters him. Blinds him. Or perhaps Paul discovered his blindness that day. Self-righteousness had long hidden the reality that he was stumbling around in the dark.
And Paul changed. This is the miracle. Many who meet Jesus get one, and this was Paul’s. Normally a miracle works the other way: the one who is blind now sees. Since, for Paul, encountering Jesus didn’t restore sight but revealed blindness, his miracle was delivered as an invitation to change his trajectory. His new journey will open his eyes and clarify his vision-and that of the Church-into a future still unfolding.
Many of us have or will undergo the difficult and unwelcome discovery of our wrongness, our blindness. I’ve hit the sudden dead end of unyielding trajectories in various episodes: Dumped by friends who’d had enough of my nonsense. Fired from jobs because my way conflicted with the boss’s expressed direction. Harmed in fluttering too close to the flame in pursuit of what I thought was happiness. “My way or the highway” is a motto for those intent on personal tragedy. We all think we’re in the right until proven otherwise. Some of those lessons are bitter.
Paul changed. This brings hope. If Paul of Tarsus could make a 180, even the most self-deluded among us might wake up. If we’re of a rigid religious bent, wed to pitiless standards, we can learn the generous path of mercy. If we’re convinced violence is an acceptable course of action, we may fall in love with the peaceable kingdom. Stubborn-minded partisans might yet halt the charge toward perceived opponents, to seek and find more reconciling routes.
People change. If this weren’t possible, Christianity would be a useless tradition. So often in the biographies of saints, we read how the blessed ones began on vain or wrong-headed roads before encountering the God of compassion. In our best literature, too, villains may take the long arc toward the surprising role of heroes. If Darth Vader can evolve, so might we.
We change. The call to conversion can’t be waved away as a signal of moral flimflam when it so often proves to be the divine lure. A season of darkness and doubt may be the price we pay for relinquishing certitude. The blindness of Paul crawling toward the light of Christ is real and frightening. If we risk plunging into an unknown truth, clarity may be grasped on the other side of letting go.
By: Alice Camille