Friends, today we reflect on the significance of the conversion of St. Paul. Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus was an answer to this question: When would God gather the nations and through Israel bring his rule to the whole world? When Paul met Jesus he realized that the promises of God had been fulfilled, that the expectations of the prophets had been met—but in a most unexpected and extraordinary way.
He knew from his tradition that God, through Israel, would deliver the world from sin, gather the nations, and establish peace and justice everywhere. That was the hope. The usual version of that hope was something like an avenging military and political ruler like Solomon or David, or a great lawgiver and leader like Moses.
What Paul saw in Jesus was someone greater than Moses, Solomon, or David—and someone wholly unexpected. God is establishing his justice, his right order, his way, through a crucified and risen criminal, and now returned from the dead? Forgiveness, compassion, nonviolence, having no truck with the ways of death? This is God’s justice, and it judges all of the fallen powers and kingdoms of the world.