The old man was a murderer.
Of all the men and women in the Bible, only Paul begins as a villain and ends as a hero.
He is first seen, almost as an afterthought, in the murder of St. Stephen
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul approved of their killing him.
But this Saul of Tarsus — this St. Paul — was still recognizably the same man after his conversion than before. It was before his conversion, before he understood how or why he was blinded, that his character was revealed
He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Saul was and remained, a man searching for God
The Letter to the Ephesians, a public epistle meant to be read aloud, is also the most private of Saul’s letters. Nowhere else in the Bible is the written directions of a man to others so clearly a man’s reflection on himself
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Paul tells us — tells himself? — to imitate God
Yet the Man, God, himself instructed us to act in the actions of another
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.
Abram, who became Abraham, shares some traits with Saul, who became Paul. Both had transformations. Both were incomplete transformations.
Abraham’s character is introduced as a cautious man, a coward, who uses deceit to protect those he loves
And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
But it is later, against a far greater threat, Abraham instead uses logic and reason– even when the the subject of the conversation is the LORD Himself
Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
In both cases Abraham is fearful of the consequences to his loved ones. In both cases he’s cautious. He improves, as Saul improves. But he is his own self, if not, entirely, his old self.
And not without the pain of his old self
Genesis 18 may be the most important single chapter of the Bible. We see Abraham in his fullness, the new yet recognizably the same man once known as Abram. We see the LORD, eating steak and drinking milk with Abraham, the Man God, who so loved His creation that He Himself became a creature. And we see this becoming, not only from Abraham, but from the LORD
The four verses before Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom, and direct after the meal of steak and curds and milk are as follows
Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
The Divine Internal Dialog. The LORD in His full humanity. The LORD, fully human and fully divine, that also imitated Abraham
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
At the radical core of Christianity is the greatest miracle, the greatest act of love, the work of the greatest will imaginable. The Creator became a Ceature. God became man. Paul says to immigate God, the Lord says to imitate Abraham, and Abraham himself imigates God and Paul.
Few men ever see another, knowing that he would die for him, that he would be tortured in his place
As Paul wrote
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I wonder what the LORD thought to himself, seeing Isaac?
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But God loves us that much.
Christ could have taken Himself down fromt he Christ. He didn’t. He could have avoided death. He didn’t. He could have avoided hunger and pain and thirst. He didn’t. The One so loved us the One became one of us.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.