I’ve just finished watching the recent BBC production of Les Miserables. It’s an amazing story detailing the conversion of an inveterate criminal, Jean Valjean and the refusal of a dogged police Inspector Javert to accept that a man can change. Valjean, having been released from prison is shown grace by a bishop that he has stolen from and this encounter profoundly changes him. He uses the money he’s obtained to establish a factory that brings prosperity to a town. He rescues a young orphan and dedicates his life to caring for her. Meanwhile Javert devotes his life to bringing down Valjean as he does not believe Valjean is anything but a criminal. It is only when Valjean shows mercy to Javert that the policeman sees the transformation is genuine and his entire world is shaken.
There is a parallel with the subject of our reading today. Saul is a man on a mission to stamp out this new religion. He persecutes those who claim that Jesus is the Messiah and is risen. His strict understanding of theology does not allow for a crucified Messiah; the claims of the disciples that the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer necessary cannot sit with him. This new way cannot exist along with the old so it must go. During his trip to Damascus to persecute, he famously encounters the risen Jesus. This shock challenges everything he thought he knew about God. From seeking to boldly enter the city and dominate, he is led in to the city blind and helpless. He spends time reflecting on his error before being converted to a disciple of Jesus and going on to carry out what may be the greatest missionary trip in history.
I think Saul’s experience is like Javert’s, his notions of right and wrong are blown away in one encounter. He is also like Valjean, experiencing grace first hand and being changed by this to live a different way. And this is the issue for me. The conversion of Saul into the apostle Paul is hugely significant, but that was not the end of his story. Paul was converted so he could tell others and they too could be converted and live different lives. As Christians we may ask, or be asked, “Are you saved?” It’s an important question, but it is not the only question. The follow up question that naturally flows is, “having been saved, what next?” If we see conversions as the end result, we miss the entire ministry of Paul. It is up to us to respond to the grace we have received and live in a new way. We should seek Christ’s will for our new lives and live out this calling. We were also called for a reason; let us not waste this opportunity to live this out.
(David Oyelowo as Inspector Javert and Dominic West as Jean Valjean in the BBC production of “Les Miserables”)