St. Paul, author of the letter to Romans in this Sunday’s liturgy, may have felt that he was a failure. Once a Pharisee, a group charged with repression of Jewish Christians, who threatened certain legal traditions of Judaism, Paul was a “zealous” persecutor of Jewish Christians – until his conversion. Then, his journey began.
He traveled many, many miles (as mentioned in last Thursday’s Reflection) to preach the Gospel. At that time, there were about 74 sects of Judaism and countless cults and pagan gods. Scripture tells us that Paul was chased from Ephesus by silversmiths who made their living by selling silver statues of the pagan god Diana.
Paul believed in parousia – that Christ Jesus would return in his lifetime. (Some scholars believe that the Gospels were written to preserve the teachings of Jesus as those who knew him personally began to die out.) Hopes of parousia faded away. After fourteen years of traveling and preaching, he was finally imprisoned in Rome, where he wrote his last two letters, to the Philippians and to Philemon. Paul died in Rome.
Paul may have felt that his life’s work was in vain.
Yet, centuries later, Paul was hailed. John Donne, English poet, scholar, soldier and priest, called him “thunder.” Martin Luther wrote that he had “betrothed himself to Galatians; it is my wife.” Sigmund Freud, a noted atheist, said that “Paul stands alone in history.”
Persistence. Faith. Love of Christ Jesus. Paul’s love of Jesus Christ survived and eventually thrived. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington