A Light From the Sky

“A Light From the Sky”
A reflection on Acts 9:1-9
The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle
©2022 by Gloria M. Chang

Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.

Acts 9:1-9

The calling of shepherds by light emerges as a theme in the writings of Luke. At the birth of Christ, the angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flock at night “and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:8-9). After Pentecost, Christ’s chosen instrument to carry his name before “Gentiles, kings, and Israelites” (Acts 2:15) was stopped in his tracks on his way to Damascus to round up and enchain the Lord’s fledgling flock. In the night of unbelief, Saul was blinded by the light of Christ and called to shepherd his people. 

The three versions of Paul’s conversion recall the first time that light summoned shepherds to Christ.

Luke’s Narration of Saul’s Conversion

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.

Acts 9:3

Paul’s Defense Before the Jerusalem Jews

On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.

Acts 22:6

Paul’s Defense Before King Agrippa

At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions.

Acts 26:13

The Greek word perilampó (shine around) appears in both Luke 2:9 and Acts 26:13. The related word periastrapto (flash/gleam/shine around like lightning) appears in Acts 9:3 and 22:6. 

The first shepherds—simple, pastoral men—found Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus lying in a manger. A multitude of the heavenly host rejoiced with them proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). These shepherds brought the good news to the Jews longing for the Messiah.

Saul, a scholarly Pharisee and Roman citizen, was chosen by Christ to shepherd the world beyond the borders of Israel. Although he was not a disciple and eyewitness during Jesus’ lifetime, Saul realized that Christ was alive in his Body, the Church: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? …I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Awakened by light, scales fell from his eyes, and he was baptized by Ananias and received the Holy Spirit.

Angels descended to visit the first shepherds at Christ’s earthly birth. Paul ascended in spirit to the realm of the angels in the course of his earthly mission: 

I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4

Paul, Christ’s shepherd summoned by Light, proved the authenticity of his conversion by a life “crucified” with his Savior (Galatians 2:19). Nothing deterred him from sharing Christ crucified and risen—not imprisonments, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, robbers, dangers, sleeplessness, hunger or thirst (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
Responsorial Psalm (Mark 16:15)

I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last,
says the Lord.

Gospel Acclamation (John 15:16)

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