This is a reflection about St Paul that is particularly pertinent during the time when we commemorate the Lord’s suffering and death. Many sermons correctly point out, as the scripture relates, that while Jesus answered the questions of Pilate, he did not resist what would be his inevitable execution. Jesus himself explains that he could have summoned both earthly and heavenly forces to defend and free him, but as this is not his realm, but heaven is his true home and destination, he did not.
Well before the Passion and Crucifixion Jesus taught the Apostles, the disciples and all who attended his sermons and believed that his followers should turn the other cheek. Another time the Apostles wondered why Jesus did not send fire down upon a town that had rejected him. Jesus explained that he came to save souls, not to kill.
Now, you might at this time guess that I’m going to compare Jesus and what he taught to Saul, he who was the persecutor of Christians, before he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus, converted and became St. Paul. You would be wrong, as that is not where I am going with this reflection but, rather, to a far more important point. I am going to point out to you the dire, deadly consequences of not obeying Jesus in all matters.
Suppose that the Apostles and disciples listened to Jesus about passive resistance (to use a modern term) with one ear, but with the other ear succumbed to temptation to “fight back when attacked,” immediately after Jesus was crucified. That would be the attitude of modern society, not the Church, today. We have “enemy lists” and “preemptive strikes,” and we declare enemies of not only terrorists who are declared enemies but also those who “aid and harbor them.” Here is what would have happened.
Immediately after Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven we had our first Christian martyr, Stephen, who was stoned as he forgave his murderers. A young man tended to the cloaks of the stoners and that was Saul. Saul then developed zeal, a murderous zeal, where he not only spied and reported on the disciples and their converts, those who Jesus and the Apostles had converted to Christianity, but he hunted them down in person in order to bring them to their deaths.
This, in fact, was what Saul was hastening to do on the road to Damascus, when the resurrected Jesus confronted him and threw him from his horse, blinding Saul with the light of his glorified body. But what if as soon as Stephen was stoned, the Apostles and other Christians had made “an enemies list?” What if they had recognized right away what a scourge Saul was to the early Christians, including themselves, and decided, as moderns glorify in real acts and in entertainment media, “take him out first?” What if the Christians had ignored Jesus in this one matter and had killed Saul?
If that thought terrifies you, it should.
Thank God on your hands and knees that the Apostles and disciples, and all the martyrs and early Christians, obeyed Jesus in all matters, most particularly in this one. If I want to give myself the horrors and make myself sick to my stomach, all I have to do is think of one stupid cowboy from modern times urging the Apostles after Stephen was killed to make an “enemies list” and conduct “preemptive strikes” in order to have a “justifiable defense” and “defend ourselves and our faith.”
If just one of the disciples had been of that mindset, to ignore Jesus in “just this one matter,” and had killed Saul before he became St. Paul, Christianity would not exist today.
It is not that St. Paul was so instrumental to the Christianity that I say this, though obviously he is the one who brought Christianity to the Gentiles and not only the Jews. It would be that through the action of one or a handful of people, those early Christians would have demonstrated their lack of worthiness and faithlessness to God, who had sent Jesus to be heard, believed and obeyed in ALL matters, not “most of them” with “exceptions cause it’s an emergency and ‘Jesus would understand.’” God would have allowed Christianity to die on the vine because disobeying Jesus within months of his resurrection would have indicated that the soil and the plants were not worthy.
When we say that God has a perfect plan, that is the truth, but the very people who say God has a perfect plan and seem to believe in God often think that they know better than God. This is the dire, extreme, and impossible to exaggerate peril of modern humans, both believers and non believers. While not a single one of the Apostles, disciples or early Christian converts, those of Jesus himself and the next few generations, were unfaithful to all that Jesus taught, including going to their death in non-resistance, can I say that about a single person living today? Do not people happily “cherry pick” what Jesus said and did, saying “Jesus would understand that these times are ‘different?’” People spy on each other’s supposed ‘transgressions,’ gossip, and target for malice those on their personal and clique “enemies list.” I know, for I have had a prominent place on the “enemy list” of those who supposedly believe in God and Jesus.
When I think of the people who have spied on me and thus misunderstood my actions, or inactions, and attributed judgmental “identities” to me (including the Harlot of Babylon, a crown I guess many Catholics have to bear), I think of how those people would have shot Saul right through the heart in “self defense,” thinking that “Jesus would understand.”
No, Jesus would not and does not “understand” such a mindset, and God will be severe in his judgment.
The next time you think that you have “secret knowledge” about who someone “really is” and whether they are “worthy in their faith or not,” imagine your hands on the trigger of a gun pointed at the head of Saul and you blowing his brains out in “self defense.”