by Maria Evans
Don’t you just love the Book of Acts? It’s like watching an adventure movie, isn’t it? It’s for that reason I like to talk about this particular book of the Bible in “film school” terms. It’s important to remember at the time this book was written, many of the readers/hearers were living in a Hellenized culture, and one of things to consider when we read the New Testament is that many of the people who read these books or heard their stories would have been exposed to the Greek form of theater. Many of the common ways stories are presented to us in the movies also have their roots in Greek theater.
As we read Saul’s conversion today, this sudden realization of a pivotal truth that Saul/Paul experiences is known as anagnorisis. Although it often happens to the hero, it can also happen to us, as the audience. A classic example is how we pretty much went through most of the Harry Potter series thinking Severus Snape was a bad guy, only to discover in the the end that he actually was one of the good guys. Although anagnorisis often happens towards the end, it doesn’t have to, and Saul’s conversion illustrates that. In fact, anagnorisis heralds a whole new way of living in community for many, not just for Saul-who-will-become-Paul.
Earlier, we were given the MacGuffin that some dude named Saul was holding coats at Stephen’s death by stoning. Today, we see where this is all going. Saul wasn’t just a mere coat rack, he was actively on his way to Damascus to deliver letters procured from the high priest in the hope that he could arrest more Jesus followers. In a flash of light, he gets a lot more anagnorisis than he had bargained for!
Although it’s probably a safe bet relatively few of us have had an experience that even comes close to Saul’s, it’s probably also a safe bet that most of us have had an experience where we gained a certain amount or kind of truth that we did a 180. Perhaps it was an accusation of wrongdoing, and over time the real culprit who harmed us was revealed. Maybe it was the realization that the most annoying person we met at church in the early phases of our life together in Christ turned out to be the one who was most helpful to us in times of trouble.
One of the temporarily troubling things about a shared life together in Christian community is that the things we, at times, are dead set certain about, turn out not to be the case. We might find another person difficult only to find out WE were the one being difficult. We might think someone is a “crummy priest” or a “lousy Senior Warden” only to discover that, like Severus Snape, they were on the side of good after all. We might find ourselves eating our own words a bit when we ourselves are called to new ministries or to a vocation within the church. Anagnorisis happens, and God laughs.
When is a time you discovered a pivotal truth that flipped your way of viewing something on its head, and turned you from a naysayer or a persecutor, to a follower?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: Conversion of Saul Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (of course there is no horse mentioned in Acts – but makes a better visual!)