|Caravaggio's Conversion of Paul|
Paul, well-educated in Judaism and Greco-Roman philosophy, had been a rabid persecutor of Christians.
But an awesome visionary experience of the Risen Christ turned Paul’s life upside down. Paul became one of the greatest evangelizers, establishing Christian faith communities throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and authoring letters that shaped the history of Christian Thought.
Paul had a keen insight into what makes human beings tick. He knew everyone yearns for happiness. Etched into Paul's vision of life were the words of Jesus: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest.” For Paul, discipline is the path that leads to this.
Think about it. When we eat well, exercise often, and sleep regularly, we feel more fully alive physically. When we love, when we give priority to significant relationships, and give of ourselves to help others, we feel more fully alive emotionally. When we study the achievements of the human spirit in various cultures, our world expands intellectually. And when we take a few moments each day to come before God in prayer, we experience more fully the transcendent spiritual dimension of life.
These endeavors require discipline. Discipline sets us free to attain our ultimate purpose. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want, but is the strength of character to do what is good, true, noble and right.
Paul grasped this reality and preached that Christ came to reconcile us with the Father, and to satisfy the craving for happiness that preoccupies our human hearts. Our yearning for happiness is ultimately a yearning for intimacy with our Creator. Augustine's words in the 5th century echo anew in every heart: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Lord.”
Christ, for Paul, is indeed “the way, the truth and the life.” Who is this Jesus that captivated Paul and should captivate us?
The Gospel writers give us a glimpse into different portraits of Jesus because they wrote to four different audiences.
In Matthew, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, so Matthew begins with the family tree. Jesus emerges as the new Moses, the teacher; and Matthew invites us to become teachers, especially by example, by the practice of virtue.
In Mark, Jesus is the suffering Messiah: very human, approachable. We, too, like the early Christians in the decade of the '60s, may have to cope with suffering. We even may wonder at times if God has forgotten us, especially if what’s happening is the opposite of what we want.
In Luke, Jesus is compassionate and forgiving and salvation is for everyone. Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son. Luke challenges us to be compassionate and forgiving in our relationships with one another.
In John, Jesus is noble, majestic, divine. “The Word was God.” “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus invited the first disciples to stay with HIm; and John invites us to stay with Jesus awhile, especially in prayer.
What image of Jesus inspires you to become the kind of person today that Jesus was in his day? The Gospels are a good starting point to draw your own image of Jesus.