Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.
The story of Saint Paul's conversion has always been a paradigm for the Christian's experience of coming to the Lord. We hear the story often when people speak of their discovery or rediscovery of faith. "The scales fell from my eyes!" they say as the Obvious finally broke into their narrow-minded thinking and freed them to see the way things are. They experience immediate relief and delight.
But this story was not the standard model in his day. The Roman world was overrun with "mystery religions" who offered myths and legends that purported to make sense of life. We know little of these mystery religions because the secrets were conveyed by word of mouth from teacher to novice. But I suspect they were something like today's conspiracy theories. The "master" offered a compilation of facts, half-truths, popular conceptions and weird explanations and then persuaded the novice that this ingenious explanation was the key to wisdom. The novice -- who may have been young, gullible and already invested both socially and financially -- bought the package. He might have tried to recoup his losses, or justify his foolishness, by recruiting others into the intellectual Ponzi-scheme.
Saint Paul was familiar with these hare-brained ideas and occasionally refers to them, but insisted the Christian revelation is not that kind of mystery. He had to use the word mystery, as we still do today. (And he had to redefine it as we do today.) But he insisted these strange notions were only myths of human origin and useless to the Christian. In fact, some Christians apparently twisted the gospel around their own ideas and attempted to make it another mystery religion. (And, inevitably, some people today accuse Saint Paul of misleading the Church from the true message of Jesus -- which they have (remarkably) rediscovered after twenty centuries of misunderstanding! Wow!)
Saint Paul's experience told him that you needed no alien theory to receive the revelation. The truth of Jesus Christ was obvious to any inspired person familiar with the Jewish scriptures and traditions. The important difference, of course, was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a gift which could not be purchased or engineered but could be received by the willing.
Encountering Christ for that particular Jew was like the scales falling from his eyes. It was there all along but he could not see it.
|The Funeral of our|
Brother Bob Baxter
The obvious, telling difference is found not in the doctrines but in the Spirit, as Paul told the Galatians:
...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
The Christian who knows the mystery is not afraid. She gives her testimony of God's mercy simply, honestly and courageously to anyone who will listen. If their hearts are open, scales fall from their eyes.