9th May. Friday in Week 3 of Easter
First Reading: Acts 9:1-20
(On the road to Damascus, the persecutor Saul becomes a disciple of the Way.)
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lordsaid to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Gospel: John 6:52-59
(A promise of life: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”)
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Persecutor to Promoter
Paul’s dramatic conversion is here presented for the first of three times in the Acts (see also 22:4-26; 26:12-18). Here it highlights the church’s moving out beyond Judaism and into the gentile world. It is significantly preceded by the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch and followed by the conversion of Cornelius, the Roman centurion. Both the Ethiopian and the Roman were baptized without going through the procedures of circumcision and following Jewish dietary laws. Their conversions shared an important feature with Saul’s: each took place by a special, miraculous intervention by God. Up to then Paul had been trying to suppress the church, in Jerusalem and elsewhere. But his conversion would pose the Christians with quite a new kind of problem. With the zeal of a convert, Paul insisted that it was not necessary to be circumcised or to follow the Mosaic laws, in order to be a follower of Jesus. His strongly held convictions split the church right down the center. The controversy boils up in his Epistle to the Galatians and at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Not only was Paul considered a traitor by his own Jewish family, he was to be isolated from many even in his Christian community. When Ananias predicted that Paul would suffer for the name of Jesus, it referred not just to Paul’s eventual martyrdom in Rome but also to a life marked by conflict even within his own church!
Once Paul was converted, both he and the church took the consequences that flowed from this. Each would suffer the effect of the other’s gifts, insights and apostolate. And as each one is strengthened further by Jesus’ eucharistic bread come down from heaven, each will be clearer in insights, more forceful in demands and expectations, even more impatient at the slow or indifferent reaction of others. This process of life, into death, for a new and greater life is the story of Jesus, Paul and each of us.