Paul was persecuting the followers of a dead man. Or so he thought. It must have been a tremendous shock for Paul to meet Jesus on the road to Damascus.
In my last article on Paul's conversion, I wrote about how Paul must have been bowled over that he, a persecutor of the Lord, was commissioned by God to spread the good news about Jesus.
Paul would have been shaken on another level too. As a devout Pharisee, he expected the resurrection of the dead. He just didn't expect it now. Paul would have been awaiting the general resurrection of God's people when the messiah came.
He had no expectation . . . no one did . . . that the messiah would be put to death and then would rise from the dead. In this resurrection, Paul had the guarantee that Jesus was the true messiah. He also had a guarantee that the resurrection of God's people at the end of time was no pipe dream. God's promise to Israel was true.
The Sadduccees – those who denied the resurrection – were now definitively proved wrong. One case of resurrection was already in hand and Paul had witnessed it. Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection. At his final return, all will be raised.
Knowing this is not simply knowing one fact among other facts. It is a transformative knowing that should affect every aspect of one's being.
It certainly did for Paul. He turned his back on his former way of life, his fanatical and violent defence of the belief that God was Israel's God only and that all Israel needed to prepare for the messiah's coming was by the most exacting adherence to the Mosaic Law.
Paul did not simply learn about the resurrection on the road to Damascus. He experienced it. He wanted not only to know about the resurrection, but to fully experience its power. He came to realize that everything he previously valued is garbage.
Paul did not simply learn about the resurrection on the road to Damascus. He experienced it.
"All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death" (Philippians 3:10).
He began to urge people to be gentle, kind, humble, meek, patient and even forgiving. He urged them to set their hearts on what is on heaven, not on what is on earth.
Why the change? Because now there is hope, a hope rooted in God's gift of the Holy Spirit. The living reality of grace and the guarantee of the final resurrection means that our present lives are shot through with glory. They are transformed by a hope given by the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote to the Romans, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (10:9). The resurrection is not only a doctrinal statement, not a simple fact; it is the source of salvation. Our very belief in the resurrection is also a gift of the Holy Spirit and it changes who we are.
This is a hope that only the resurrection can provide. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, says not only is there the resurrection of the body, there is also the resurrection of the heart. We do not have to wait for the end of time to experience the resurrection of the heart. We can have it now if we believe in that final resurrection.
The resurrection of the heart transforms lives and it makes faith and charity possible, he says. "It is hope that pulls faith and charity. Without hope everything would stop" (Life in Christ, p. 81).
Without hope, there is no need for justice or even kindness. There is no need for faith. "If for this life only we have hoped for Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
But of course our hope is for eternity and that changes the way we live today. The clearest sign of the future resurrection is the resurrection that takes place today in our hearts through life in the Spirit.