This Tuesday, we are discussing Chapter 7 “Stories of Finding Jesus” of Dr. Hanna Steele’s book Living His Story. In this final chapter, Dr. Steele encourages us to understand the different ways that people come to faith. She contrasts Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 26 with Cleopas’s conversion on the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. Please read these two passages.
Most of us are familiar with Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus. Paul, the good Pharisee and champion of a pure Jewish religion, is sent by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to Damascus to stamp out the nascent Jewish heresy of The Way that considers Jesus as the Messiah. Paul already had victories over the Church in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the general persecution of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:3). On the Road, Jesus confronts Paul in a blinding light and Paul goes to Damascus to be baptized, not to destroy. Acts 9.
Paul’s conversion is instantaneous. In a moment Paul went from seeing Jesus as a threat to seeing Jesus as Lord. In the evangelical movement (beginning with John Wesley and George Whitfield) conversion comes about from hearing the word and responding to the word. It is a world of altar calls and the sinner’s prayer. If you grew up Baptist or Methodist or have seen a Billy Graham crusade, this is the model of conversation of how someone becomes a Christian. When was that day that you personally made that decision for Jesus?
This is the tradition from which Dr. Steele writes.
In Cleopas, we see a good Jew who likes Jesus. Jesus appears to Cleopas and his companion and walks with them on the seven-mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. During this journey, Jesus walks Cleopas through the Scriptures about who the Messiah is to be. Once they reached Emmaus, they have supper, and in the breaking of the bread, Cleopas first recognizes Jesus.
Cleopas’s conversion is a journey of walking with the Scriptures and the Eucharist before coming to see Jesus fully. It is a process, not a moment. If you grew up in a more liturgical church (Eastern, Roman, or Episcopal), this is how someone becomes a Christian. They are brought up in the faith, and the revelation of Jesus occurs with their journey of faith throughout their lives (and in particular in the Eucharist).
One question Dr. Steels asks if “what is your conversion experience?” Is it more Damascus or Emmaus? She urges us to recognize that everyone has a different experience and that we cannot force our experience on others. Some of us have had that Damascus experience that easily separates us before Jesus and after Jesus. For others of us, it is simply a process and a journey towards a greater understanding and relationship with Jesus. For all of us, however, we must recognize that our conversion, whether sudden or incremental, is not the result of our work but God’s work. Our conversion, just as that of Paul or Cleopas, comes from him.
Dinner is at 6:30. Dinner is chicken mole (Cinco de Mayo). Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.Luke 24:30-31.