On the extreme violence of Saul and then Saint Paul, because Jesus…

Saint Paul Conversion Damascus Caravaggio

Amidst all the non-sense of the “Just.Wow.” moments in the past number of weeks (and I still must write much more about all that), a reader sent this in by email:

“Father ~ For he testifieth: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedech. Anyone else notice that?”

Answer: I think we’ve pretty much lost sight of what, of who a priest must be. A priest is the one who, with Christ Jesus, is to bring not peace, but the sword of division. Harsh words? Christ Jesus is deadly serious. Jesus is the One who spoke those words. Jesus is the One who died in extreme violence because of those words. Just note His wounds from having been tortured to death with extreme violence on the Cross. Yep. Extreme violence. Because that’s exactly what sin has done to our souls, to society. If anyone is without God’s grace, that person will use violence, and finally, when pushed, extreme violence with anyone who bears the goodness and kindness and truth of Jesus. He said it Himself: As the Master, so the disciple. Saint Paul would end up meeting with that extreme violence himself, getting decapitated.

But when Jesus pursued Saul so as to make of him Saint Paul, that young Saul was the best student of the Law, and was zealous to the point of an off-kilter extreme violence, so much so that he was unthinking in all of his academic prowess, and decided to put his thoughts into action in the most cowardly way, which is typical. He armed himself with letters of authorization, and then chased off to Damascus with a posse to drag the new Christians out of their houses, the elderly, the middle-aged, the youngsters, the infants, the sucklings at the breast, so as to put them in chains and death-march them back to Jerusalem for trial as heretics, so that he could have the sick joy of executing them. He had blood on his hands already for having assisted at the stoning to death of the new Deacon, Saint Stephen. He couldn’t wait for more.

And then our Lord appeared to him and asked Saul why he was so set on persecuting Him, Jesus, for to persecute the ones Saul was running after was to persecute Jesus personally. Saul converted to Saint Paul. But with all that history of violence in a very violent society, Saint Paul used vocabulary of extreme violence:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Saint Paul would have us all die off, that is, that we be crucified to the world, the flesh and the devil, to our fallen human spirits, so that we might live for Jesus. More succinctly, Saint Paul would kill us off with truth, with goodness and kindness, so that we can live for that truth and goodness and kindness by the power of that truth and goodness and kindness, by the power of Jesus’ life within us.

And then there’s Jesus, you know, with extreme-violence statements about us taking up the instrument of torture and death, the cross, and carrying this, following Him, into battle, with hell. Peaceniks beware! We’re out to kill you! Um… you know, with goodness and kindness and truth. I know a lady who kills people all the time, really evil people… she kills them with kindness. And I’ve seen people melt with such kindness, and they are killed off to themselves, and do change. God is good.

Jesus said that the violent are taking heaven, taking it with violent force. Yep. How’s that? Not with our evil violence. No no. But with a violence that is extreme, incomparably more violent than anything we can come up with: mercy. And while the cynics click away in haughty fear, real fear, running away in the confusion of fear, consider this: there is nothing more violent to ourselves, more geared to having us killed off, than the mercy we receive from Jesus in forgiveness. It kills us off to ourselves to live for him. But that does real violence to us. It is that violence of mercy, of forgiveness, that disrupts peoples lives for the better, which we want to bring others. Kill them all! You know, kill them all off with kindness, with goodness and kindness and truth.

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Filed under Saints, Spiritual life

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