I've been thinking about how the saints of old seemed to welcome persecution. It was an honour to suffer for the Name of the Lord, to be counted as a martyr. These days, the idea of a martyr is more synonymous with the religious, fanatical suicide bombers or a few high minded political protestors than with the advance of the Gospel. Persecution is a problem in other countries, not here! Here in America, we try hard to practice tolerance for all. Those who fail are labeled small-minded bigots & the so called persecuted get their own charitable foundation(s) & a voice in government to speak out against the suppression of their civil rights. Here, we wage war with money, words & technology, but things usually don't end with torture or death anymore. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Of course it would be ignorant to say that pockets of actual persecution don't occur within our borders, but those rogue acts aren't sanctioned or supported by the law. The persecution the saints endured WAS. It was national, it was international. If you were found to be a Christian, you were maimed & /or killed, by law. And it still happens today, all over the world in various places.
As a Catholic, I hear a lot more slurs regarding my faith than when I was just an evangelical protestant. I'm part of a cult, I condone abuse, I worship Mary, wafers & saints. I talk to dead people, I think the Pope is God & I believe only what I'm told because I'm not allowed to think for myself. Of course these things are misconceptions. While they're not torture or life threatening, they are, in fact, a subtle form of persecution that almost every Catholic will hear in their lifetime. But persecution knows no bounds as "PTL!", the tables are easily turned on those self righteous Bible thumpers who see demons under ever rock (There. See how easy that was?)...
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my Name.” We're told in Acts that Saul was a young man at the time of Stephen's stoning... He was also a Pharisee & would have known of Jesus... Maybe he saw Him in the temple or the synagogue. He may have heard Him preach. Maybe he was in the vicinity of Jesus' sentencing & crucifixion. I get the impression that Saul & Jesus weren't exactly strangers. So when Jesus asked him why he was persecuting Him, I think in today's language it might sound like: “What the... what're you thinking, Saul?! We're on the same side!” If Saul were on a basketball team, he would have dunked in his own net & scored for the other guys. Saul knew the Law & he knew the words & works of both Jesus & His followers. But somehow he still didn't recognize Jesus' voice on the road to Damascus. Saul thought he knew Jesus & His followers, but we see here that he didn't. He thought he knew God's heart, but clearly, he was mistaken.
How often are we Catholics or Protestants like Saul... hot on the road to Damascus, with our own agenda to police the truth as we understand it? And what do we do when God has other plans & stops us cold in our tracks? Blind as bats, do we rage & stumble down the road or are we humbled & led by the hand of a companion? Like Saul, are we willing to sit with things for a few days & wait for God to bring about understanding & consequent healing? Saul probably could have ordered some people to go in his stead & finish what He started. But his encounter with God must've shaken him up. I'd stay put too! Imagine what it must've felt like to realize he was offending the very God whose truth he sought to defend & emulate. Though it seemed like this was Saul's sole prospect & purpose in life, I wonder if he had ever had a real encounter with the living God like this one? Was Saul more like those who know scripture & theology, are in church every time the doors are open & still don't have a clue what being a Christian actually means? If he was, he would certainly never be the same again. Once those scales fell from his eyes, he was a changed man, joining forces with the very community he persecuted.