One should be careful not to put a lot of trust in the historicity of the Acts of the Apostles. We’ve frequently seen how Luke is much more a theologian than a historian. For historical accuracy we turn to Paul’s letters, especially in those areas where the Apostle contradicts Acts.
Yet, when it comes to Paul’s conversion - which takes places immediately before our liturgical passage - students of Scripture tell us the triggering device for that about face is verified in Paul’s letters. After mentioning Saul was on the road to Damascus to lock up “any men or women who belonged to the Way,” Luke tells us, “a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Luke tells us that Paul’s conversion revolves around his insight that the heretical movement he’s trying to eradicate isn’t just carrying out the teachings of a religious leader who died years before. Something happens to make him realize the Jesus they follow is actually alive in those who imitate him.
Beyond Acts, Paul’s own letters speak about his conviction that Christians are the Body of the risen Jesus. And for those who question whether certain individuals are more the Body of Christ than others, he clearly states in Galatians 3 that there’s a huge distinction between the historical Jesus and the risen Jesus. Only free Jewish men can imitate the historical Jesus. But, for Paul, that historically limited Jesus died at 3:00PM on Good Friday. The only Jesus Paul experiences is the unlimited Jesus who rose on Easter Sunday; a Jesus who is just as much free as slave, Gentile as Jew, and woman as man. (The latter is one of the reasons I have a problem using only male pronouns in these commentaries when I’m speaking of the risen Jesus.)
In today’s Acts pericope, Luke tells us that Jerusalem Christians have more of a problem noticing Jesus in Saul than he has seeing him/her in them.
Perhaps that’s why the author of I John makes a big thing about keeping “God’s commandments.”“We are to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus the Christ, and are to love one another as he commanded us.” Keeping those two commands, along with the help of the Spirit, is the key to knowing “he remains in us.” One must recognize the Jesus in others before he or she can recognize the Jesus in themselves.
John’s Jesus employs a classic metaphor for oneness. “Live on in me, as I do in you. No more than a branch can bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, can you bear fruit apart from me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who live in me and I in them will produce abundantly, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
We, who as children were taught to focus on Jesus’ presence in the Eucharistic bread, might have to go through some biblical re-education. Scripture is only written when our sacred authors notice problems in the community. No problems; no Scripture. Today’s readings imply few people had difficulty recognizing Jesus in the bread and wine. No skin off their teeth to have him present in inanimate objects. The problem is recognizing him in oneself and others. Some of those others might not have voted for my presidential candidate last year, or might live in a different country, not speak my language, or be my gender. At that point real Christian conversion takes place.