Long ago, during the reign of the Caesars, there lived a disgruntled man of privilege, a Jew with Roman citizenship. His name was Saul. He was a Pharisee.
The Pharisees were a sect of scholars immersed–to the nth degree, jot and tittle–in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. They enforced Jewish law amongst the common people who considered them less corrupt than the more liberal, more upper crust Sadducees, though they were not. In fact, they were so devilish that they subverted the very scriptures they purportedly revered, using them to cannibalize the assets of their most vulnerable citizens.
Jesus Christ was their natural enemy. He saw through them and exposed their schemes. He castigated them, calling them white washed tombs full of filth and decay. He shamed them, naming them hypocrites. And he lightened their pocketbooks by driving out the street peddlers, who paid them bribes, from the courtyard of the temple.
Consequently they hated him; so they followed him around, trying to catch him in an indiscretion. And they tested him, famously, when they dragged a terrified woman before him, encircling them both. She had been caught in the bed of a man other than her husband, a crime in those days and according to the law of Moses, punishable by the cruel death of stoning.
“Teacher, what shall we do with this woman?” they asked him.
Jesus knelt and wrote something in the dust of the ground. What it was, we are not told. Then he said, “he who is without sin should throw the first stone.”
This dumfounded the Pharisees. Convicted by their conscience, each one of them from freshman to senior, dropped the stones they held and left her alone with him.
“Daughter, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” he asked.
“No, my Lord. They have gone,” she answered.
“Nor do I condemn you. Go in peace and sin no more,” he said.
The people were enamored with Jesus. They flocked to him and he taught them about God. And because he was merciful and despaired seeing them in pain, he healed the blind and restored the lepers to their health. In return the people tried to force him to be their king, hoping that he would liberate them from Roman rule and return them to the glory days of King David. This so demoralized the Pharisees–they were so envious of him– they conspired to murder him.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in being that kind of a king. He wanted the people to choose him as their spiritual king so that he could liberate them from their sins. When the people realized this, they were grievously disappointed.
Sensing an opening, the Pharisees swooped in and took advantage of the peoples discontent. They distorted the teachings of Jesus, stirring up nationalist resentment against him, instigating a frenzied mob that called for his crucifixion. The Romans feared a Jewish insurrection and though they found him not guilty of any crime, they appeased the mob by executing him.
The Pharisees were gleefully relived. They thought that they were rid of him.
But Jesus’ followers remained. And although they were initially scared off, they regrouped and were emboldened by the Spirit of God. They continued to teach his philosophy of enlightenment through forgiveness and service, calling themselves Christians.
Their numbers grew so expeditiously that the Pharisees, once again, felt their power and influence threatened. So they sent their most zealous enforcer to round up the Christians, with orders to detain them, to torture them and to kill them. This man was Saul.
Now Saul believed himself to be right. He backed up his assurance with scriptures that he twisted in and out of context to fit his will. He was adept at this, for as a student of Rabban Gamaliel, he knew the Jewish law both forward and back.
One day, while Saul was traveling on the road to the city of Damascus, where he was to further his mission of oppression, a brilliant light from the heavens flashed around him, knocking him to the ground. And he heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me?”
And Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, ” I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. It is useless for you to fight against my will.”
So trembling and afraid, he asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
Jesus told him, “Stand up and go into the city. There you will be told what you must do.”
When Saul stood, he was blind. Those who were with him were also afraid because they too heard a voice, but saw no one.