During these weeks of the Easter season we hear a lot about St Paul as we are reading from the Acts of the Apostles. What was the central message that Paul preached when he made his way into synagogues or when he preached on the streets. What did he teach? Well, you can sum it up in with these words; ‘… live in Christ Jesus.’
Paul saw himself as a Jew who received the fulfilment of promises made to Israel. Even the most dispassionate reading of the Old Testament reveals that it’s a book of expectation, of hope, and of promise. God has chosen Israel, they are a special people to whom he has given his law and through them he would bring salvation to all the nations. That’s the promise, the hope and expectation of Israel. One day a Messiah would come, someone with God’s grace and power who would gather Israel and bring salvation and hope. Young Paul reading the Torah and the prophets would have taken in this hope and expectation. But when Paul saw the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus it was the last person he expected to see. In fact he was actively persecuting the followers of Christ as deluded fanatics. And yet it’s Jesus himself who speaks to him. In that moment Paul realized that the promise made to Israel had been fulfilled and hope had been realized. The Messiah had come but in the most unexpected possible way. He got a “…crucified and risen Lord.” Paul’s message was to proclaim this Messiah to the world.
In the cross we see the clash of two kingdoms: The kingdom of this world, of violence, domination, fear and lies, under Satan’s control. And the kingdom of love, peace, purity charity, truth and forgiveness, embodied by Jesus. By all objective observers the former appeared to have won as Jesus hung lifeless upon the gibbet of the cross. But God showed his Lordship by raising Jesus from the dead.
This victory is what Paul preached in the cities in the synagogue, in the streets, in the countryside, on the ocean, in chains, in prison and in his own martyrdom. Paul wanted to bring as many people as possible into the kingdom of God. A phrase that appears 83 times in Paul’s letters is “In Christ…” He says it over and over again. He tells us to order our lives to Christ and choose his kingdom. If we do these words are meant for us: “Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Cor 2:9).
Fr. Anthony Mary