Acts 9:1-22

Conversion of St. Paul

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Acts 9:1-22

Conversion of St. Paul

By Elizabeth (Liz) Gentil


Take a look at this.

Is this glass of water half empty or half full?

Psychologists say that if you think the glass is half empty you are by nature a pessimistic person whereas if you think the glass is half full you are more inclined to take an optimistic view of life.

I tried this experiment years ago as a young student at university and found to my surprise that more of my fellow students were pessimistic than optimistic. A shame really, when we had all of our lives stretching before us, that we should, as a group, have been so pessimistic.

I wonder if that has changed as we have all grown older?

I’ve been told that I always look on the bright side of life. I am a half full person! It can be very frustrating to some of my friends, when I don’t share their gloomy outlook on some problem we have encountered. But then I was brought up to believe that there is always something to find that is good in every person and every situation, if we are prepared to look for it.

Do you think St Paul was a half-full person or a half-empty person? What do we know of his life? Are there clues that can tell us how he would have instinctively responded to half a glass of water?

Whatever he was like, as Saul, before he met Jesus, I think after his conversion Paul was definitely a half-full person. An optimistic person. How else could he have survived all the problems life threw at him? Imprisonment…. Shipwreck…. Persecution. For when he became a Christian Paul began to suffer the same kind of persecution that he had dished out before.

Last October I was privileged to visit Malta, the little island in the Mediterranean Sea which was the scene of one of Paul’s shipwreck experiences.

Do you remember the story in Acts? After the shipwreck Paul sent to ask the local inhabitants the name of the country and the reply came back that it was called Melitta, which means the land of honey. We now call it Malta and you can still buy honey there gathered from local bees by local Maltese people; almost certainly descendants of the bees and the people that Paul knew so long ago.

Indeed when we were there we stayed at a place called St Paul’s Bay. It is here, on the rocks that guard the bay, that the shipwreck is likely to have occurred. In the window of one scuba diving school there was a sign advertising “St Paul’s Shipwreck Dives”. There have been many wrecks on the same rocks and these dives were to explore more recent ones. The wooden ship St Paul travelled in would be long gone.

The bible tells us that St Paul stayed on Malta for only 3 months. Just twelve or so weeks. The equivalent of from now until April. it’s not long. February will be upon us before we know it.

Yet in that short time Paul made an impression on the Maltese people that still influences their lives today. Everywhere we went on our holiday there was evidence of his visit.
“This is the place where he landed after the wreck.” “This is where he stayed outside the main city.” “This is where he lit the fire when the viper fastened on his hand.”  And so on.
But he is remembered not only as a historical figure with miraculous survival capabilities.

Paul instilled in the people of Malta a love for Christ that has survived invasion and persecution by Saracens in the Middle Ages, near starvation in the second world war, even the materialism of much of the twentieth century. It’s certainly not a backward country, but underlying everything we observed a faith in its people that is strong and firm, stemming from that one 3 month visit so many centuries ago.

In the middle of the island is a church topped a large dome. There are a lot of domes on Malta. This one is the largest on the island, and indeed outside the USA it is the third largest in existence. The only two larger are St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. Both built by renowned architects and armies of master masons and craftsmen.

The dome at the church in Mosta was built by the townspeople of Mosta. Ordinary local families, who after their day’s work would go to the church and put in some precious time on the building project. Everyone helped, men, women, children. Everyone did what they could to help to create a beautiful place of worship.

Together, in this small town, they built themselves a church that is visited and honoured and used for worship by thousands of people every year. You can’t go to Malta without being taken to see this miraculous building. And why did they do it? Not to create a tourist attraction, not to show off to their neighbours, they built the church to honour and worship Jesus Christ, because of the love they had learned from Paul, the only missionary Malta has ever needed.

All his life as a Christian Paul just couldn’t help telling people about Jesus. All his life he passed on, by practical example, what it means to live as a Christian. We know from his letters that he influenced whole communities all around the Mediterranean. And the power of his written word is at work in our lives today.

In Malta they have a saying. There is a type of marble rock on the island used for paving stones on public roads in the ancient city. There are black marks embedded in the white rock.  The Maltese say that these are the teeth of St Paul. Even the very rocks around were affected by the power of his words as he spit out the words that changed lives.

Few Christians today would seem to be as influential in bringing people to the Lord, and yet it does happen. God works in us today just as surely as he was at work in Paul. We may not have suffered a Damascus Road experience, we may not share his same remarkable gift of oratory. Yet we too can bring Jesus alive for the people we meet, by our everyday attitude to life, our compassion, our encouragement, by the way we speak rather than the words we say, the way we treat everyone we meet.

We shouldn’t be afraid to show that Christ lives in us, and if we just allow others to see that Jesus make a difference in our lives they will notice.

Some people have a special gift of evangelising, people who through God given oratory, like Paul can open the hearts and minds of others to receive the Lord. We may not all be Evangelists but we are all called to share Christ’s’ love. It’s far too big a gift to keep to ourselves, besides it’s one of those rare gifts that the more you give away, the more you receive.

We can all learn from the people of Malta. I’m certain Paul would be amazed and delighted to see how dedicated they are to his memory and his example. So much so that the Pope shared with them precious relics of Paul‘s time in Rome, a wrist bone from his body and a stone from the pillar of his execution.

As the church in this place do we have as much passion for Christ as the people of Mosta? Do we have as much dedication to our church life? Do we have as much concern as they to share the good news of Jesus Christ? Would you give up your spare time to take Christ’s work into your community? Are you optimistic about the effect you can have?

For this is what is lasting and precious and noticeable about the people of Malta, who became followers of Christ through the example of Paul, who himself became a extraordinary Christian during an ordinary journey one day long long ago.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

— Copyright 2006, Liz Gentil. Used by permission.