This year’s Lenten Reader is focused on “who we are called to be in response to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.” To do this, I think we need to break that down into “who we are” and “called to be”. Today’s reading from Acts 21:37-22:29 looks at both of these in the life of Paul.
Paul's telling his conversion story to the Jewish crowd likely stands out the most in this passage; it is certainly a familiar story. However, it is what bookends Paul’s conversion story that stood out most to me this time. On either side of Paul’s conversion is so much description of who Paul is. The verses before gives much detail about Paul’s Jewishness. The verses at the end of the passage are about how Paul is a Roman citizen (useful information to get him out of a flogging).
“Who we are”: This passage tells us a lot about who Paul is. He is a Jew and a Roman citizen. He is a Greek speaker and a Hebrew speaker. He was a persecutor of the followers of Jesus and chosen by God to see and hear Jesus.
“Called to be”: Read verses 14 and 15 about Paul’s calling. His brutal past had stopped the spread of the Gospel, and he was called to spread the Gospel in the world. I use the word “and” in that last sentence on purpose. I could have phrased it, “His brutal past had stopped the spread of the Gospel, but he was called…” The word “but” generally negates everything that has been said previously. (Pay attention to your use of that word in conversation. If someone comes up to me with a problem or struggle, how quick am I to “but” my way to a happy ending for them? “But at least you have your health.” “But things will be different tomorrow.”)
Paul doesn’t deny his history. In fact, the details he gives in verses 3-5 of his gruesome past increase his credibility with his Jewish audience. He was a highly educated, zealous follower of the law, known by the high priest and elders AND Jesus showed himself to Paul. That Paul. Jesus didn’t deny Paul’s history either.
The bookends of this passage—the description of who Paul is—help me see Paul’s conversion and calling with fresh eyes this year. Like Paul, we all have a history. Like Paul, Jesus meets us right in the middle of who we are AND calls us to see and hear him. I am learning, in my own life, that I know my calling as a follower of Jesus best when I know who I am.