90 Day Challenge – Day 86

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Bible Time Period: The Church

The Church carries on your work in the world: Make me a faithful ambassador of your love.

Reflection

The persecution that begins with Stephen’s death leads to a wave of witness beyond Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria (these are the areas of South and North Palestine).  The key people to watch going forward are Paul and Peter.  Notice the means God uses to convince Peter and others of one of the central truths of the new kingdom, that it is open to all.

Today’s Reading

Acts 9-12

Today’s Question

Who does Saul discover he has really been persecuting, and what does that mean about the life of Jesus Christ?

Join the discussion below!

Sarah Christmyer

Sarah Christmyer is co-developer with Jeff Cavins of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. She serves as Strategic Consultant of The Great Adventure and is author or co-author of a number of the studies. Sarah has thirty years of experience leading and teaching Bible studies. She helped launch Catholic Scripture Study and is co-author of "Genesis Part I: God and His Creation" and "Genesis Part II: God and His Family," published by Emmaus Road. Sarah has a BA in English literature from Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and is working toward a Masters of Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. Raised in a strong evangelical family, she was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. Sarah also writes at comeintotheword.com/.

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  • Margie

    I am always intrigued when I re-read the conversion of Saul. I love this story because it proves how loving and forgiving Jesus is. Saul’s confrontation of who he really “persecuted” was such a shock to him. It was a blessing that he was blinded because this forced him for the next 3 days, to take a long look deep within his soul. Saul may be the first person in the Bible who was not destroyed by God because of his evilness. The many lives he persecuted, tortured and brought to death, yet he was saved by the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus knew Saul had the capability to believe in the “truth” and “the way.” Because of Jesus’s resurrection and the forgiveness of Saul’s sins, and with the Holy Spirit he led many Christians to learn that loving Jesus is the birth of Faith and Hope.

    • Marianne

      This is a perfect example in our own witness to others when they are unable to forgive themselves. No sin is too terrible that they will not be forgiven. Yes, we can all live with this Hope.

  • Fisher

    Like Marianne, I am fascinated to read what has been written last year, as compared to how we all feel this year. And what an extra special blessing to see new posts from fresh perspectives! The Bible is a living, breathing instrument, and we are called to ever-deepening faith. So, naturally our perspectives and applications will grow and shift, but hopefully always bring us closer to the light of truth.
    Again, referring to Fr. Robert Barron’s “Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues” study:
    We just reflected on envy and admiration. Perfect timing for this week’s SH Scripture questions. I bet Dante considered Paul when he spoke of the level of envy, daughter of pride. The punishment for envy is to have one’s eyes sewn shut. In this way, they cannot look around and worry/judge what others are doing, or what status they have in comparison to one’s own. Further, one must look inward to discover personal faults, weaknesses and conversely strengths. We must be humbled to accept our own sinfulness, our dependence upon God and the mercy of others.
    Paul’s blindness must surely have convicted him to the core of his self-righteous and over-zealous nature. Fear is the root of all sin, Fr. Barron’s study asserts, and surely Paul was concerned about what this new “Way” was bringing to the table concerning his entrenched ideas of religion; not to mention what it would be for his status as a Pharisee/Jewish leader. Thank God for His perfect judgments and perfect intercession. Thank Paul for his willingness to open his heart and allow his forced humility to work for God’s glory. When the scales fell off, the world was blessed, indeed.

    • Marianne

      His life is such an inspiration to us in so many ways.
      St. Paul, pray for us!

  • Elaine Boone

    Reading Acts 9:9, I am thinking of the three days Paul spends in prayer and fasting preparing himself for instruction in his new faith. Just as Christ spent his time in the desert before beginning his three-year ministry, Paul “retreats” so that when Ananias arrives he will be prepared for what Christ is calling him to do in His name. Paul doesn’t question his call, but responds with the same zeal with which he had persecuted these “wayward” Jews who were following The Way. Paul hears from Christ that he was actually persecuting Jesus when he went after Christians. This tells us that the life of Christ lives on in his followers. We who chose Christ are the embodiment of Jesus or “face of Christ” to the world. We must remember this fact when we chose to persecute others through our judgments, cruelty, gossip or any form of negativity towards “our neighbor”. We must always look for the face of Chrust in all peoples so that we love them as we do Jesus Christ. If not, how can we call ourselves Christians?

  • Marianne

    I don’t think I can add much that hasn’t already been said. Saul was persecuting Jesus, the One who said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus taught us how to pray the Our Father… “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Jesus practiced what He preached. He did not say, “Saul, your sins are too great. I can forgive others but I can never forgive YOU. No, He forgave Saul completely. He also helped Saul in his metanoia to Paul, to become one of the greatest examples of a changed life, through grace. Paul had to live with the guilt of what he did for the rest of his life, and yet he was able to atone for it by spreading God’s message of love across the world, and across time, for 2000 years later, people are still inspired by the writings of St. Paul.

    Well, I’m home sick with the flu today, and it gives me time to ponder much of what’s been said here during this study. We’re winding down our study on Day 86. I think many people were disturbed in the beginning that the comments from last year were included with this study. I for one find it interesting to reread what was said last year. It’s kind of like going through your journal a year later, seeing where your thoughts were at this time last year and comparing to where they are now. Have we changed? Did we achieve what we thought we’d achieve? Did we resolve certain issues? Do we recognize God’s Hand in all our actions over the past year? How has He helped us? What will we do in the year ahead of us?

    As Michelle stated a year ago, “what I will do on day 91 to keep my passion going?”

    Our lives are an ongoing journey. God is calling US to action. He is calling US to stop persecuting Jesus in whatever way we’ve been doing that stops us from being one with Him. He has forgiven us completely and encourages us to turn our sinful lives around and use what we’ve learned to bring others closer to salvation. May Jesus say to each one of us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21)

  • Kevin

    Jesus took the person who was hurting him the most, and rather than squashing him, lovingly brought him closer to him, onto his own “team”. Saul “thought” he was doing right by persecuting this new religion, but in this case, Saul’s own strength was his weakness. Jesus showed him the difference, which turned Saul/Paul’s great strength 180 deg to the correct direction to truly serve God/Jesus!

    • Marianne

      His weakness became his strength, all for the glory of God…

  • Susan

    Saul believed he was properly and faithfully upholding the Messianic Law – to the letter. Unbeknownst to him the law had been expanded and refined by Jesus and there was a new covenent that included not just the Jews but many others including some not circumscribed. By being myopic in his beliefs, he actually was persecuting not only Jesus Christ but also the Church that was early in its formation. It took drastic measures for Saul to “see” his grave error; however, after hearing God’s voice and the forced inward reflection, he came to understand and to become one of the great leaders of the early church .

    The early life of Jesus impacted those within his reach and in the neighboring towns as word spread. The Word had not reached far locations being hindered by the mode of information transfer in those days. It has after His death but through his direction that His early Church spread the Word to many previously inaccessible locales. The Holy Spirit was the influence and spoke through the disciples …. this purpose was one of the reasons Jesus died on the cross, He wanted the Church to spread his Word far and wide.

  • Carla Archuleta

    As scripture throughout the Holy Bible shows God the Father and the Lord Jesus constantly work to keep us alive and living as “true” Christians this is another example of what he does. Saul filled with hatred, and anger ready to take the lives of others is worked on by the Lord to stay on the path with Jesus. It took time that offered silence, loss of vision and fasting to let him know that the one person he was really working against is Jesus. Once this was crystal clear to him he turned a new leaf that was difficult for others to believe. I am sure to certain extents this is all of us. Therefore, Lord Jesus help us to always stay focused on our Lord.

  • In persecuting the Church—Christ’s witness—Saul persecutes Christ. He may very well see the Messiah standing in solidarity with the Church. “I am Jesus whom you persecute”. St. Bede states, “Jesus does not say, ‘Why do you persecute my members?’, but, ‘Why do you persecute me?’, because he himself still suffers affronts in his body, which is the Church”.

  • pnkyB4brain

    Saul was persecuting Christ through his followers. I do believe that there was a bit of resentfulness because it stirred up his perfect world and that made him angry. What happened to Saul reinforces the enormous love Jesus, Our Savior has for mankind. Jesus saw the good in Saul regardless of how angry he was. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    I cannot but wonder how the prayers of Stephan might have affected Paul

    • Marianne

      All the more reason to pray for those who persecute us. We never know whether our prayers will break through the hardened barriers to their souls and bring about a change of heart.

  • Suz

    This may be an oversimplification but I too can be as “Saul”, always working in my life to be as “Paul”. Please do not misunderstand, I am not attempting to make a blasphemous statement. I am a sinner, called back to God when I become weak in my faith and ever striving to be the best Catholic I can be!

  • Barbara Ann Baugh

    Saul discovers it is Jesus the promised Messiah that he is persecuting. In calling Ananias to go to Saul God reveals that Saul is chosen by God

  • Ann Basile

    The interaction/intertwining of the Trinity is, for me, the most beautiful mystery there is to ponder. Saul was persecuting the Incarnate God, Jesus. God in skin came to teach us how to live and to give His life up that we might have eternal life in the Kingdom. And he gave us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us to be our Guide back to Jesus who ushers us in to the Father. Again, it all comes back to Unconditional Love.

  • Avila

    mg succinctly hit the nail on the head. What also struck me was that one of the critical factors in the Church was that the majority were Jews, bound by Jewish traditions and the old covenant which was demonstrated in their diet and circumcision. Working through Paul and Peter, Jesus reminded them that He came to save everyone including the Gentiles and that He brought a new covenant. It was Peter who got in there and to put it in Pope Francis’ words came out “stinking of sheep” by staying with a tanner and recognising the hand of God when Gentiles were baptised in the Holy Spirit and challenging those who did not believe that Gentiles should or could be baptised.

    The inclusiveness has wobbled at times, but we have a universal Church that welcomes everyone, but guards against people receiving the Eucharist unworthily or claiming that a sin is not a sin. The Church is welcoming but sadly, many of us weak and frail sinners fall short of the Gospel message and teachings of the Church by judging and attaching other conditions not to be found in the Bible. By doing so, we put up barriers for their conversion or reversion. There will always be some who are not interested and claim discrimination etc. even when it does not exist but I suppose we must not lose sight of the potential for salvation (which can only happen if we keep to God’s Truth).

    • Fisher

      Very good points. These readings have excellent applications for us today. Also, don’t forget Phillip who evangelize and baptized the eunich, who then returned to Ethiopia and spread the good news. I love this interlude – lots of effective evangelization by the disciples!

    • jacqueline

      I was enjoying reading your post until I came to the last sentence. It is sad to say that you think people claim discrimination falsely, sadder still, is the fact that discrimination still exists in the church today. Yes, we have a universal church that teaches that discrimination of any kind is wrong, and Jesus often associated himself with the poor and outcasts eg the beatitudes, lazarus and the rich man, Matt 25:31-46:.. “whatever you did to the least of my brothers .. you did it to me”. Welcome Pope Francis! who realises that we are a long way from being inclusive of everyone, and as I posted a few days ago Pope Francis writes in his Evangelii Gaudium document that “we should stand at crossroads and welcome the outcasts” – (at church, where, sometimes we do not make newcomers feel welcome). Love and blessings.

      • Avila

        Jacqueline, I think I had better add the context of the last line. I was thinking of a person who is Church of England (CofE) who said they didn’t go to church because gays were not welcome. In response to a comment, I explained the teachings about the single-life (no difference in orientation or chasteness) but the person said they wanted to stay CofE. A few years ago, the CofE made a public welcome to gays, and I mentioned how pleased the person must feel to be welcomed. The grumpy response was I don’t want to go to church, followed by a long sulk (it lasted weeks). When I got to know them better, I understood their need to “keep playing the victim” and claim discrimination, even where there was none. It is very sad that someone’s world centers on one tiny aspect of themselves.

        In contrast, I am in awe of those quiet devote people who bear the cross with suffering and dignity to practice the faith and worthily receive the Eucharist, despite many trials and tribulations.

        • jacqueline

          If I jumped the gun Avila, apologies, but I took the comment as a generalisation. Love and blessings.

          • Avila

            No you didn’t jump the gun. Originally I did type an explanation but the post got a bit long and windy, so I took it out. With hindsight, I should have left it in. May God bless you.

          • jacqueline

            Thanks for clarifying this. Love and blessings.

  • mg

    Plain and simple, Saul was persecuting Jesus Christ. And it should serve as a warning to all that anyone who persecutes the faithful followers of the Lord, persecute Jesus himself.

    We are many parts, we are all one body,
    and the gifts we have we are given to share.
    May the Spirit of love make us one in deed;

    one, the love that we share,
    one, our hope in despair,
    one, the cross that we bear.

  • Liza

    Saul was a learned man and a devout Jew. Having read about the challenges the Jewish people faced over many years, I think he would have been a great Old Testament defender of the Jewish faith (like Joshua, Judas Maccabees, and others). Jesus has turned his world on it’s head and Jesus looks like a poisonous challenge to their true faith and law rather than the fulfilment of everything. I cannot imagine how challenging it must have been for everyone. (When Peter goes to Cornelius’s house the Jewish Christians cannot understand how gentiles can be part of this). It is hard to imagine how they dealt with such revolutionary thinking on a daily basis: consider how thoughtfully and slowly the church moves as she faces the turmoil of change around her today. The Holy Spirit was dramatically delivering the Body of the early Church to the world and the birth pains were massive.

    Saul had been persecuting Christ by killing Christ’s Body (the early church). Jesus, in love, speaks directly to the man who is killing his Body. Saul was blind and in prayer for 3 days with no food or drink: his own death and resurrection through Baptism by Ananias. The transformation gave us a brilliant, faithful, and insightful leader of our church. I am always hopeful when I see those that persecute the church today as we know the Holy Spirit can do amazing work in everyone’s life.

    • Barbara Ann Baugh

      I once was discussing the Bible at work (in the last century). The topic came up who would you be if you had been alive at the time of Jesus. Most of the others were speaking about how wonderful it would have been to be a follower of Jesus. I stopped the conversation when I stated I would have been a Pharisee.

      • Suz

        I, too would have been a Pharisee…..

      • Liza

        Take heart: many believe Jesus was a Pharisee too.

  • pnkyB4brain

    Saul was quite happy with his religion and the way it conformed to his life style. Then, all of a sudden this “new” religion came about and it rocked his little comfortable world. That angered Saul. Thinking he was bringing people back to the Lord, he persecuted the early Christians with such intensity. When he experienced the vision that left him blind, he became a convert. His contribution to the early church was invaluable.
    You asked ‘What does it mean about the life of Jesus Christ?’ I think it would be safe to say that Jesus, Our Savior welcomed all people, not just the Jews into the “new” religion. Saul realized this wonderful aspect of the early church after his conversion.

    • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

      I was thinking about this question as I was reading these chapters…and I agree with you. I might add, though, that I think it may also mean that Jesus was now in each person who was a believer…because it was the believers that Saul was persecuting, so it stands to reason that the one whom they believed in was the one that Saul ultimately was persecuting. This got me to thinking about us…how we have in our history persecuting various groups of people…Ie. the Blacks, the Asians, the Mexicans, and most recently those with a different sexual persuasion than us…These are all God’s people…and as Pope Francis has told us, we may want to rethink our views on homosexuality…remarriage. I wrote a poem about my husband’s and my family coming together when we got married. He comes from a Methodist background, and me Catholic and other religions…So ours is a mixed marriage…so to speak…I have always felt as a 2nd class citizen in the Church, because we were not the typical Catholic family. I can understand how these people may have felt as not “true believers”, just accepted …It took a lot of compassion, courage, liberal views for these Jewish believers to welcome these others into the faith…especially with Satan using persecution as his tool to break down the strength of this fledgling Church…God’s power is truly with them as they continue to grow in numbers in such circumstances. We need to remember that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So this power and strength is there for us as well, every time we have the courage to step out in faith and speak up for Jesus…praying to Him to show us what we need to do to change and grow closer to Him…I have found that He will bring us to it, if we are willing to go there…in spite of any doubts and fears that we possess. He is our strength…and our ultimate guide.

      • pnkyB4brain

        I can see where you are coming from with Saul ultimately persecuting Jesus. God point.
        I, too, have a mixed marriage. I have always thought that Jesus looks upon all of us as his beloved children. The early teachers of the church wanted the people of the Jewish faith to comprehend that this “new” religion was for everyone not just a select few. As you said,’ Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’. That in itself gives me confidence that His ways will always be our rock and will not change. Thanks Beverly, for your sagacious words.

        • Michelle

          Ladies, I appreciate your dialogue here and agree with all you have said. I would add even another dimension which is, I am not in a “mixed marriage” as my husband and I are both Catholic from Birth but I have felt not so worthy at times because my knowledge of Scripture was so basic and my prayer life less than ideal. I feel this way especially when I am around others who have so much knowledge. A priest actually asked me one time in Confession, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?” I actually had to stop and think about this. Of course He does! He loves each and every one of us and will meet us wherever we are at in life as long as we are open to Him and come to Him with our needs, wants, and desires. This is how I look at Saul, he had true hatred for this “new group” and yet Jesus met Him where he was at amidst this hatred and the result was a true conversion of heart, a conversion to love, a conversion to Jesus.

          • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

            I love this…Jesus flies into the darkness (hell, so to speak)to save the lost. That is exactly how I look at it…It is very comforting to know we have that kind of Savior.

          • Barbara Ann Baugh

            This also bothers me much when I think of the seperated churches. I have often been treated in a more Christian manner by Protestants than by Catholics. Admittedly they do have some rather strange notions about the “endtimes”

          • Beverly Hagar-Schmerse

            Well, there is none of us who really knows what will happen at the endtimes…we know Jesus will come…it says on a cloud…but even Jesus said that he didn’t know the time or the hour…only the Father does. But Jesus always told us to keep on preparing, for just that reason…we DON’T know the time or the hour.

          • Barbara Ann Baugh

            Right now my Evangelical friends are getting all excited about “blood moons” Of course, I tell them I am not so much worried about “endtimes” but I am preparing for my own endtime which is most probably a lot closer and more predictable.

          • Marianne

            Not as soon as you think, Barbara Ann!

          • pnkyB4brain

            Michelle,
            I am SO glad that someone brought up the fact that knowledge of scripture is basic. Mine is, too but I was ashamed to say anything.
            There have been some comments that are beautiful and knowledgeable with this bible study! On the big plus side, we achieve a knowledge about God that is worth its weight in gold! I simply love the way you describe Saul and how Jesus encounters him in the “midst of this hatred”. That gave me pause and a new way to look at this reading. Thank you, Michelle.

          • Michelle

            I guess I have no shame, haha! As I have said in my previous posts over the 90 days I am such a novice but want to learn and truly value all of the input provided over this Bible Challenge. I have learned so much and my family now calls me the “Bible expert!” (Definitely, not, but very funny.) I am just wondering what I will do on day 91 to keep my passion going?!?