In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
My favorite guy to listen to right now, Bill Creasy, likes to bring up the fact that our Patron Saint, St. Paul would have been present in Jerusalem for all of the happenings during Holy Week. How could he not, he was learning under the greatest rabbi of the time Gamaliel, who himself was a member of the council, so he lived in Jerusalem. So Paul, his student, would of course live there as well.
As the various scenes played out with Jesus, of course it would draw the attention of Gamaliel and Paul. So we can imagine them present in the crowd the next day as Jesus is laying into the leaders of the various religious groups who are trying to test this man from Nazareth.
Now comes the interesting part that is absolutely not stated in the text but is not so wildly speculative that we could dismiss outright. Since Paul was in Jerusalem at this time, and he was a scholar in the law, what if the young lawyer who approaches Jesus in the Gospel lesson today is actually a young Saul of Tarsus. Here is how it would play out:
Paul and Gamaliel are present at all the encounters from the Triumphal entry forward and are, today, present as Jesus encounters the religious leaders in the Temple. As Paul blusters and stammers in frustration of the events unfolding in front of him, he notices Gamaliel becoming strangely pensive. Each group takes their turn trying to expose Jesus, and Gamaliel, who at first was providing a running commentary to Paul, with each encounter was becoming quieter and quieter, while Paul on the other hand was becoming more and more indignant.
As the Sadducees take their turn to poke holes in his theology only to be silenced by his mastery, Paul turns to Gamaliel for direction, but he too is silent. So Paul takes an opportunity: the old man is missing it, so I must step forward. Who knows, maybe this will be the occasion which will allow me to step out of his shadow and make a name for myself.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” There, let’s see where he goes from here.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Paul, like everyone before him, is silenced. Oh my gosh. He is right. I never thought about it that way before.
Then Jesus turned to the group of Pharisees: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” When they answered “The son of David,” Paul, still a little taken aback, thought of course.
“How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? Ok, he is quoting Psalm 110 a psalm about the Messiah. Where is he going with this?
“If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” DID HE JUST SAY WHAT I THINK HE JUST SAID?! Did he just claim to be greater than the greatest King God has ever given to the people? Who does this guy think he is? Sure he is smart and all, but I’m smart too. These guys around me aren’t saying anything, so now might not be the time, but this guy has got to go. He is uttering blasphemy—claiming to be greater than God’s anointed son.
This sets Paul off. He and Gamaliel go round and round that day and all the days following until Jesus is crucified. “There, see, I was right. He can’t possibly have been the Messiah because look what they just did to him.” And with the death of Jesus and Gamaliel’s weird passivity (which, tradition tells us was the result of Gamaliel’s secret conversion to Christianity along with Nicodemus), Paul decides to separate from his teacher, as he has obviously just passed Gamaliel in knowledge and understanding. From now on it will be Paul’s name that people will associate with the greatest teacher. And to show his dedication, Paul aggressively squashes the followers of this “Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.”
Paul does such a good job that he advances quickly and with the death of Stephen, a deacon in their Church, Paul steps to the forefront of the oppression. He scatters all the people in Jerusalem gathered for Pentecost. He clears them from all of the houses in town by dragging them all off to prison. When that is finished Paul goes to Caiaphas and obtains a letter of introduction to the synagogue in Damascus. Damascus is the head of the snake. If he can get there, he stops the spread of this disease before it can spread to the rest of the world. All trade routes bottleneck at Damascus.
As he approached Damascus, a bright light from heaven flashed around him. It was as if the world was ripped open and Heaven shone through. Paul was blinded and fell to the ground. As he landed he heard a voice like thunder issuing from the clouds: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Paul’s eyes were seared shut by the encounter, but with his outward vision impaired, his inner vision could begin to emerge from the slumber that he had forced on it ever since he heard Jesus talking in the Temple. Jesus?! You mean that guy from back in Jerusalem? Was he really the Messiah and I missed it? If he did this to me, then what he said back then must have been the truth—he truly is greater than David since I just witnessed him in heaven. Maybe I have gotten this thing all wrong. Can I truly have been that blind?
Beloved, what Paul and the rest of the crowd confronting Jesus lacked that day was the spiritual eyes to see the truth. Jesus was the son of David in the flesh—Matthew makes this very clear in his genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel. But he was also the Lord of David as God. All the various groups failed to recognize that which is why they had no retort when Jesus asks them the question: “If David then calls the Christ Lord, how is he his son?”
They saw a man. Paul saw a man—a man who spoke blasphemy—unless it wasn’t. That day Paul’s eyes were darkened to the point that he was willing to kill to suppress this uprising heresy. It was not until Paul encountered Jesus in his full divinity that he became aware of just how blind he had been. Then he goes to Ananias who lays his hand on him and fills Paul with the Holy Spirit and those old, dead eyes fell from his face revealing the atrophied, inner spiritual eyes beneath and finally allowing them to see the full light of day.
With his vision restored, Paul goes on to do great things in the name of the Lord. The passion he had for suppressing an ungodly uprising in his beloved religion, was now given true vision and enlighten to see the uprising as a true act of God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that passion caused him to spread the gospel throughout the entire world.
God grant that we too can have our eyes as wide open.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen