People who use sacred texts have often found ways of selecting passages appropriate to their needs. Disciples of Confucius used a complex system of hexagrams, chosen by lot, to find images and comments suitable to their time, place and situation. In classical and medieval times, the writings of Virgil and Homer were used in a similar way. Sometimes the Bible was accessed by lot or dice or random procedures. The Church responded to the need to select appropriate wisdom from the Bible, by the daily lectionary, a selection of readings for every day in the year, which was originally used in monasteries, but has for some time been used in daily mass in the Catholic Church, and for private devotion in others. Obviously the choice of passages reflects a theology and the Christian calendar, but it also has an arbitrary element. It asks the reader, “Can this wisdom be applied to your soul, your community, your place, today?” This blog follows the daily readings and hopes to uncover some wisdom.
Reading 1, Acts 22:1-18
1 Meanwhile Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest
2 and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he might find.
3 It happened that while he was travelling to Damascus and approaching the city, suddenly a light from heaven shone all round him.
4 He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the answer came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
6 Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’
7 The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one.
8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand.
9 For three days he was without his sight and took neither food nor drink.
10 There was a disciple in Damascus called Ananias, and he had a vision in which the Lord said to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord,’
11 the Lord said, ‘Get up and go to Straight Street and ask at the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying,
12 and has seen a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’
13 But in response, Ananias said, ‘Lord, I have heard from many people about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your holy people in Jerusalem.
14 He has come here with a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’
15 The Lord replied, ‘Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel;
16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’
17 Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’
18 It was as though scales fell away from his eyes and immediately he was able to see again. So he got up and was baptised
Gospel, Mk 16:15-18
15 And Jesus said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation.
16 Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
17 These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues;
18 they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
When Paul came to write about his conversion, he only said that he had been a persecutor of the Church, but it had pleased God to reveal his Son in him. The more familiar stories that we know, come from The Acts which was written many years after Paul had been killed in Rome, by which time he had become a legend and a model of conversion, that is, of the complete turning round of a life. The story shows that Saul/ Paul had been persecuting Jesus in the persons of his followers, suggesting that Saul’s real motive had been hatred of Jesus. We are nowhere given any information about Saul’s experience of Jesus in his lifetime, but it’s reasonable to assume that he had come into contact with him. Paul’s way of dealing with enemies has been brutal, but the story shows us a very different response from Ananias, who is asked to help Paul, and does, overcoming his fear. Indeed the Christian community’s welcome of Paul as a brother is just as remarkable as Paul’s turning to Jesus. Paul is an example of the vicious authoritarianism which can lie behind the most sincere religious conviction: the more sincere and authoritarian, the more vicious. The conversion of Paul is his rescue from closed-minded faith and his call to minister to those his religion despised, the gentiles.
Closed- minded faith is also seen in the reading from Mark. The authentic text of Mark ends at verse 16 “For they were afraid”, and all the other verses were added in the early centuries of the church. Most Bibles now print these verses as “ancient endings”, or some such thing. Jesus is credited here with saying bluntly, that those who believe the gospel preaching will be saved, and those who don’t will be condemned. I am not convinced that Jesus ever said such a thing (although John’s Gospel gets near it). I’m sure he did say, “Not those who call me Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of my father, will be saved.” That’s very different. The idea that people who reject the message, reject Jesus and his Father’s will, seems loopy to me, and if I had to believe it, I would not be a Christian. If I can see that my Moslem neighbour is a decent, kindly man, why can God not see the same? Is God stupider or more extreme that me? I do not think so. I don’t mean it’s not important what people believe. On the contrary! I think, for example, that some of Mohammed’s teaching is utterly wrong, especially in its view of holy war. But that does not make my neighbour unacceptable to God.