1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
On April 21, in 1142, Peter Abelard died in the great abbey in Cluny, France. His is a great turn around story akin to that of the Apostle Paul. Peter was an early medieval scholar. We have several of his writings. He was probably one of the most arrogant men who ever put pen to paper! But Peter’s transformation was on a far more personal level. As a young man he had been a brilliant scholar. He had been hired to tutor Heloise, a beautiful and intelligent young woman who was being raised by her uncle. You have to wonder just what the uncle was thinking. Soon Heloise was pregnant. They tried to keep this a secret, but word got out. The uncle was furious and hired thugs who beat and emasculated Abelard. Their baby was taken from them, and the two young lovers decided to enter monastic orders.
We know about all this because Peter wrote a short book called “My Misfortunes.” He was trying to comfort a sad friend. Medieval people had this odd idea that you could cheer someone up by telling them about someone else’s even sadder life. What Peter did not expect was that his book would fall into the hands of Heloise, whom he had not had any contact with for some years. Peter had focused on how bad all this had been for him, but he did not say much about what all this meant for Heloise. She was not impressed. Her letter to him is scathing but it also was an appeal for him to do right by her and not abandon her. She longed for those conversations they had had when he was her tutor. To his credit, he listened. He resumed writing letters to Heloise, even became something of a spiritual advisor and teacher for her little group of nuns.
Did you hear what Jesus said? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul had been throwing Christians in jail, persecuting them. But in persecuting the Christians, it was Jesus who was being persecuted. Abelard could only see himself, but in fact another had suffered. When Heloise “enlightened” him, Peter changed. When Jesus confronted Saul with the truth of whom he was really persecuting, it was a catalyst for change in Saul’s life too. It seems there are two important truths to be found here. First, know that when you suffer for God’s kingdom, Jesus always feels that with you. Saul persecuted Him. But also that Jesus never really gives up on people, even people we consider truly terrible. Heloise did not cancel the self-centered and arrogant Peter. She spoke the truth but also an invitation. Saul became the Apostle Paul.