1Kings 17:17-24; Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 7:11-17
Without apology St Paul drops his bombshell: The Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Can you imagine Ian Henderson introducing the evening ABC News with: Tonight’s news is not a human message given by a reporter, it comes straight from God; a revelation of Jesus Christ?
Paul is claiming to have received the Gospel directly from God, through a revelation! How can he expect anyone to take that sort of claim seriously? Perhaps a hundred years ago people might have believed that but not today. Today we are more enlightened; we don’t believe in visions and supernatural experiences and things like that. Do we?
Well, actually, we do. The vast majority of humans do believe in the supernatural. Taken together, the human race stands very much open to the beyond, much to the chagrin of those who think themselves liberated from such 'foolishness'.
John Henry Newman would say such people had a ‘proud, self-sufficient spirit.’ Psalm 14 verse 1 has a much harsher word for them. In any case, it is enough for us to recognise that the gift of faith is precious and undeserved, and that those of us who call themselves believers had best remain silent and grateful in case the gift be somehow lost.
St Paul gained his extraordinary faith through an extraordinary 'touch' of God. Actually, it would probably be closer to the truth to say that God ‘struck’ him. Paul, in fact, fell to the ground, blinded by the light he was given: a wonderful exchange – darkness for light!
And isn’t faith always like that? It is a kind of darkness through which we reach out, grope, for the God we cannot not see, who in exchange gives us that mysterious light by which alone the true meaning of things can be seen. We who believe see much more than those who do not.
St Paul fell to the ground. That must have been humiliating for him. Caravaggio has an entrancing painting of this episode. Paul, in his armour, full of youthful vigour, lies helpless on his back with arms reaching out to the unseen mystery enveloping him. A line from the famous poet John Donne (Sonnet 14) comes to mind: That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me ... .
Blindness which gives light; humiliation which gives dignity; a casting down which enables standing! Our faith is certainly beyond everyday reasoning – and yet it makes such wonderful sense. It is a wisdom from above, a part of that ‘light’ which comes with faith.
Jesus comes to Paul unexpectedly; it was never part of Paul’s plan. If Jesus overpowers Paul it is to let him see Jesus' own vulnerability – You are persecuting me.
God doesn’t mind roughing us up a little when it’s in our interest. A proud, self-sufficient spirit can be difficult to deal with. Sometimes he needs to pull that rug from under our feet. After all: the Lord disciplines those he loves (Heb 12:6). John Donne well understood how very deeply resistant a heart can be to the gentle overtures of God and he complains: you as yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend. He begs God to stop being Mr Nice Guy; to take off his kids gloves and use some real force to beat his stubborn soul into shape. Batter my heart... he cries. Don't knock on the door, break it down; don't breathe on me, blow me over; don't shine, burn; and don't seek to mend, make me new.
Paul certainly got a beating that day on the road to Damascus. God 'overturned' Paul, so that he might stand right way up. He blinded him so that he might see. He made him helpless so that he might become powerful. And most astonishing of all, he showed Paul that the one whose memory he was trying to erase and whose followers he was trying to destroy, was in fact the Lord of life, who dwelt within him.
When Paul stood up from his experience he was the repository of an ineffable treasure - the Good News - which he would spend the rest of his life preaching. It is the Good News which you and I have received and in which we have put our faith - not a human message given by men but a revelation of Jesus Christ.