Saul isn’t trustworthy. He isn’t trustworthy to the early disciples who had experienced the fruits of his persecution.
The apostles wisely ask Barnabas to escort Saul to them so that they can test the validity of his conversion. And Saul, now to be called Paul, tells them about the boldness of his proclamation in Damascus.
Of course, it’s one thing to hear about a supposed boldness. It’s another to see it yourself. So Paul, in the midst of Jerusalem, speaks boldly in the name of the Lord: “He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him” (Acts 9:29).
The Hellenists would have been those sons of Israel who spoke Greek. The author of Acts is drawing our attention to something important. Paul speaks boldly.
He speaks boldly in Greek.
He speaks boldly in the language of the empire.
At the conclusion of today’s passage, we are given a sense of the fruits that the Gospel will produce through Paul’s missionary outreach. The Church in Judea is growing. It is at peace.
Imagine what will happen through Paul’s return to Tarsus, to an important city of the Roman Empire. Imagine what will happen when he speaks boldly.
Jesus himself reveals to us the possibility of such fruitfulness. Grafted onto the self-giving love of the Son, each disciple can enter into divine life. All that the disciple must do is to remain with the Son, to obey his commandment of love unto the end.
Such obedience is bold. Most of us don’t want to love unto the end. We don’t want to conform ourselves to the mystery of Christ’s love.
We walk by poor men and women on our streets, hopeful that someone else may stop. After all, we’re busy.
We remain silent about our commitment to Christ when among our co-workers, seeking to fit in. After all, maybe someone else will say something.
We let our hearts remain hardened to our parents who have hurt us, nursing our grudge as if it is a newborn babe. After all, let them apologize first!
In each of these instances, we become a tree that bears no fruit. We love tepidly.
We often think about the season of Easter as a time in which we move beyond asceticism toward celebration. But as we discover a lively love for our beloved Bridegroom during Easter, we also come to recognize the places hidden in our heart where we don’t bear fruit.
Where we fear to live boldly.
The season of Easter is thus a time where we must discover a habit of love, of bold love that can transfigure the cosmos: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 Jn 3:18).
We, Christians, are not made for tepid discipleship. We are made to give our whole lives away to the Father through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We are made for love unto the end.
Like Saul, we have to enter into the heart of the empire and proclaim the Good News that God is love.
The Good News that power and prestige, fame and fortune, mean nothing.
For in Christ’s resurrection, we discover a love that challenges the powers of this age.
The power of the politician.
The power of the rich.
The power of the powerful.
Easter is the season in which each of us learns once more to appreciate the rudiments of Christian life.
And the more we enter into this school of self-giving love, we’ll find ourselves bearing fruit. Bold fruit.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.