Last updated on June 25th, 2020 at 11:36 am
“And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?; And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles— to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18). Look again at this ‘Faith’ event in the Acts of The Apostles.
‘Diokeis’, the word used here for ‘persecuting’ is one that is used almost exclusively by Paul in the New Testament apart from the rare usages by the Gospel writers. Just as (Luke)Paul is using it here; Paul uses it in the majority of his letters to speak of his ‘zealous driven nature’ in Judaism prior to conversion to a life and mission in Jesus Christ. ‘Diokeio’ has the sense ‘to expel’; ‘to journey’; ‘to hasten’; it is ‘a hunt’ and in the religious sense is ‘to bring to judgement’; ‘to drive out’; to pursue, to run after a person(s) to the end of promoting or destroying a cause. Taken together, ‘the persecutor’ is actively engaged in an expedient journey of top priority of (self) righteousness and zeal in the attempt to eliminate what is held as an opposing belief.
Many thesis have been offered to the discussion of the ‘whys’ of Paul’s persecution of the church. I am most persuaded by Bornkamm’s work ‘Paul’ where he has a chapter entitled ‘Paul’s Persecution of the Church and His Conversion and Call’. “More than once— and with no bad conscience whatsoever— he specifies persecution of the church as one of the proofs of his former righteousness according to the Law; he speaks of this, be it noted, as a logical outcome of his former irreproachable observance of the Law and not as a past wrong whose memory still torments him. …his orthodoxy, and it alone, was the reason for his hostility to Christ and his zeal as persecutor.”
Always drawn to the contemporary incarnation of The Word. When I look into the faces of the ‘present protestors who have taken to the street of America, and the persecutors who in this space in time I identify as the ‘Policing Justice System murdering unarmed Black Men, I see a ‘former righteousness of (US) Law which legislated that a man because of the color of his skin would be, shall be counted as only 3/5th of a person! It occurs to me that they have gone beyond their ‘righteousness’ their ‘orthodoxy’ and approach ‘the persecution of Jesus’. I will forever be reminded of Dr. Joseph Lowery’s call to America— ‘to the mourners pew!”
Matthew uses ‘diokeio’ 4 times and all, (like this Lukan version of Paul’s telling of his own conversion experience), are in the mouth of Jesus. For Matthew all are in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’— “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”.
It is this teaching artery of Jesus that Paul, the ‘OG’ (my bad, I mean ‘OP’ original ‘Persecutor’) of the Christian church echoes when he writes his letter to Obama, (oops, my bad again, I mean) to the Romans: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
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