Our Gospel for this Sunday is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, a book we’ll be reading a lot during this Ordinary Time.
Who was Paul? He was certainly a traveler. In his 14 years or so of ministry, he probably traveled about 10,000 miles. That’s like you and I walking or boating from here to Los Angeles (and a little beyond) three times.
During his travels, he wrote letters to churches of exiles he visited in major urban areas: Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica. Many answered questions the congregations had asked. We have Paul’s letters (and others probably written by his disciples). But we don’t have the congregations’ letters. Imagine what questions those congregations were asking! What could have caused him to reply, “You foolish, foolish Galatians”? (Galatians 3: 1)
Paul was probably short, bow-legged and bald. He had a disability. (II Corinthians 12:7). Modern scholars think the disability was probably diabetes or epilepsy.
And he was a convert. He started life as Saul, child of well-to-do Roman parents, educated by the rabbi Gamaliel. And he was a prosecutor – or a persecutor – of those in the early church. (Acts 8:1).
Then came the road to Damascus, about AD36. The story of his conversion is powerful – and echoed in our time by Mother Teresa’s story of her conversion.
That completely changed his life. Traveling and writing before the Gospels were created, he was educated enough and fearless enough to keep the troubled exile congregations in line.
Paul may have been, as retired theology professor Wayne Meeks has written, the first urban Christian. And he may well have kept Christianity alive, by expanding it beyond the border of Judea. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington