Friday, April 30, 2010

And the “Most Improved Apostle” Award Goes to …

My favorite radio show is "Wait … Wait … Don’t Tell Me!" on NPR. Recently I caught a glaring error in the show. They were talking about the Last Supper, and one of the panelists made a joke about something Paul may have said to Jesus that night. Did you catch that? Paul at the Last Supper? This guy doesn’t know his New Testament. Do you?

But it occurred to me that someone slightly out of the loop could certainly be forgiven for assuming that Paul was at the Last Supper. After all, when you think of Jesus’ most famous followers, don’t the names Peter and Paul rise to the surface?

Peter is better known for his time with Jesus than for his accomplishments later in life, which is too bad, because these later works are important and are outlined in glorious detail in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter may deserve the "Most Improved Apostle" award for his lifelong transition from simple fisherman to world traveler, from run-of-the-mill Galilean Jew to one who welcomed and embraced Gentiles into the Christian family, and from loudmouth oaf to humble servant whose life ended in crucifixion.

But Paul is better known for his later works than for his earlier ones, and the reason is simple: Paul wasn’t Paul until his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. And that’s what really sets Paul apart from his contemporaries. Despite the fact that he never actually met the man Jesus, Paul is the most famous evangelist in the Bible. Maybe the award should go to Paul, who began by persecuting and killing Christians
and ended by likewise being persecuted and killed (according to Christian tradition) for his Christian faith.

Peter and Paul were both martyrs. They both came a long way. But today, as I write this, Paul is my hero. And that’s because he had the audacity – and the humility – to align himself with the people who had actually walked the earth with Jesus, not just heard about him afterward.

Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. - 1 Cor. 15: 8-11

Can we find in ourselves the audacity and humility to believe that we, also, are apostles? Can we understand ourselves to be called by God to spread the Gospel throughout the world, just as if we had walked the dusty road with Jesus, eaten meals with him in Palestinian homes, and witnessed his miraculous healings? No matter who you are or where you find yourself on the journey of faith, God is calling you to become like Paul: a confident child of God and daring truth-teller, dedicated to loving others as Jesus loves you.

1 comment:

  1. What I admire about Paul was his wholesale giving of himself to the Way after his encounter with Christ. Now, it was pretty dramatic, but the Gospels have numerous people who encountered equally powerful experiences and who just slipped away.