ONE AND DONE CONVERSIONS are a dime a dozen. There’s a kind of change and an emotional rush and then things go on as they never did before. Or at least so we are told in fairy tales end conversion movies. The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. Scrooge kept Christmas the best of any man in London. A kiss from Prince Charming wakes the princess and they live happily ever after. Electing this one politician will solve all your problems. Conversions in the Bible, however, are often more problematic. David stumbles all through his reign, Peter denies Christ, Abraham struggles with God’s promises (what was that bit about Hagar if not a loss of faith?), the Jonah runs away, Moses says “Just kill me now”. These stories are more real – because we know that as human beings “one and done” is not a thing. Today’s feast of the Conversion of St Paul is no different.
Today, St Paul realizes his mistake, but it takes years for him to apply the realization. Certainly, he takes it seriously but he doesn’t quite realize the fullness of the implications. He goes away to learn, to pray, and to meditate. Yet even when he comes back he is still struggling. Biblical Scholars who attempt to put the letters of the Apostle into what they believe is a chronological order can discern theological development on several topics. This is not a bad thing for there is no change there is only evolution. Paul struggles with his brothers and sisters in Christ – even fighting with Peter. And famously there is The Thorn in the Flesh.
Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (AV)
The Readings for the Feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Virgin & Doctor
Tuesday in the 26th Week, Tempus per Annum (C1)
Et conversus increpavit illos, dicens : Nescitis cujus spiritus estis. Filius hominis non venit animas perdere, sed salvare. Et abierunt in aliud castellum.
And turning, he rebuked them, saying: You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of man came not to destroy souls, but to save. And they went into another town.
I have no idea why these verses are missing from the NABRE. Research indicates they are missing from the RSV with a note that “other ancient authorities” have them. So they are in the Vulgate and in the Textus Receptus, in the Douay and in the KJV. I think this may be a valid variant: otherwise we have an odd moment where Jesus rebukes someone but we are not told what was said.
Jesus wants to proclaim the good news to this village but because of their sectarian politics, they won’t even let him in the gate. John, the Beloved, wants to call down fire from heaven. The NABRE text might as well say, “Jesus only rolled his eyes and said ‘Oy’ whilst making a ‘W’ with his fingers.” Instead, Jesus responds, “I didn’t come to destroy but to save.”
There’s a lot of folks today who want to call down fire. They are angry at stuff in the church, they are angry at stuff in the world. However, like John, our anger is misplaced. It’s not the people we’re fighting with. We’re trying to save the people: unto their last breath, we should be working and praying for their salvation: praying, loving, preaching, teaching, and being Church as we model the kingdom and God’s love for them. Jesus did not come to destroy but to heal, the Greek uses the word σῴζω Sozo which means “heal” and “save”.
We can’t do God’s Kingdom if we insist on doing things that Jesus wouldn’t be doing. How many radical activists (of any extreme variety) are born because we fail to be the Kingdom of God? Yes, I know that the sex scandal drives many away from the Church and our doctrines are, themselves, the cause of anger. The Truth will do that. Read about this protest in St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.
Most folks rejecting the Gospel are not doing what happened in NYC or even recently in Mexico City. Rather I mean how many terrorists were born in Ireland because the Church was failing the people by siding with their wealthy oppressors? How many more when the Church supported the Fascists in Spain? How many more are lost when political power drives the Church in Russia, the US, in Germany, to side with hypocrisy for the sake of fancy watches, dinner invites, and “being seen”? When the future founder of the Muslim Brotherhood spent two years in the US, how did we fail to model the Kingdom and draw him in? What would have happened if we hadn’t allowed Christianity to be equated with middle class, white, mid-century values?
St Therese’s feast is perfect for this passage. She says, “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.” Rather than calling down fire, she asks us to pray for sinners in this way in her Holy Face Prayer for Sinners:
Eternal Father, since Thou hast given me for my inheritance the adorable Face of Thy Divine Son, I offer that face to Thee and I beg Thee, in exchange for this coin of infinite value, to forget the ingratitude of souls dedicated to Thee and to pardon all poor sinners.
It’s easy to blame the people in Samaria for rejecting Jesus because of their sectarian politics. John wanted to blame them. Jesus had other plans though. When the fire came from heaven at Pentecost it saved Samaria and the whole world.
Although the protesters in NYC were way out of line not everyone is acting like that. When someone in the middle of their journey rejects the Gospel is it sometimes possible that it is because we didn’t offer the Gospel in the first place?
By way of Postscript: My friend and sometime BYOB Theology Co-Host, Drew Ludwig, has shared this article about the missing verses via Twitter. There are several ancient texts (of great import) that do not contain the missing verses.