The first words of today's Second Reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians catches our attention by their simplicity: "I want you to know . . ." – words that invite us into the personality of this remarkable person – such an instrument in the early spread of the message of Jesus' gift to the world.
Scripture describes St. Paul more clearly than many other persons of Jesus' time. In today's reading, for example, he refers to his earlier life in Judaism; "I was violently persecuting the Church of God and was trying to destroy it."
Indeed, Acts 7.59 offers a description of perhaps his first contact with budding Christianity. We learn of the death of St. Stephen, "who was full of grace and power."
'I did not receive it (the Gospel) from a human source.'
Teaching in Jerusalem, Stephen "began to work great miracles and signs among the people." His work and his teaching disturbed the establishment and they stoned him.
Acts 8.1 makes a chilling comment, "Saul was among those who approved of his murder." Some devout men resolved to do the right thing and gave Stephen a decent burial.
While the other apostles preached the Word in and about Jerusalem, Saul, (he may have received the name Paul for use in the Gentile world where he did so much work) harried the Church, entering house after house, "seizing men and women, and sending them to prison." A grim description from Acts.
The success of his destructive actions against the Church in Jerusalem seems to have whetted his resolve. Once again, Acts provides details: he went to the high priest seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus authorizing him to arrest anyone following the New Way; from there he would bring them to Jerusalem to pay for their folly.
Current events teach us of the geographic relationship of these two ancient cities. Scripture refers to them often enough, but rarely mentions their relative positions.
In recent months, Israeli warplanes made the 15-minute flight to strike weapon sites near Damascus, 217 km northeast of Jerusalem. That he willingly took six or seven days to make this trip bespeaks the zeal to which he admits in his sketch.
But a singular event on that trip changed his own life, and affected much of the world for millennia to follow. As he descended to Damascus on the last day of his journey, the happening to which he alludes in today's reading struck.
Luke, once more in Acts 9.3-5, writes: "Suddenly a light flashed from the sky all around him. He fell to the ground - blinded.
"He heard a voice saying 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'"
Paul speaks of this as "a revelation of Jesus Christ" by which he received the Gospel. It made a better place of the world.
It makes a satisfying search to discern the one-to-one correspondence between Paul's autobiographical admissions in Galatians and Luke's account in Acts chapters 7 to 9.
That history beats all – short, succinct, vivid. You could look it up.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)