Who Is Paul — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Who Is Paul

Introducing St. Paul

Who Is Paul?
Sunday, March 29, 2015

This week we begin looking at the next part of my wisdom lineage, St. Paul. This man is in a category all his own, with no parallels. He is the outsider who dares to challenge the insiders—first of his own Judaism and then of the new sect that we now call Christianity. Paul is a Greek-speaking Jew and an educated Roman citizen living in the Diaspora (the dispersion of Jews beyond Israel), from the little town of Tarsus in what is now southeastern Turkey. He pays his way by tentmaking and yet is a pastor and mystical theologian of the first magnitude.

Paul is not one of the Twelve Apostles, and he never knew Jesus in the flesh. In fact, he hardly ever quotes Jesus directly. Paul writes his astounding letters in a seeming vacuum, several decades before the four Gospels were written or before there was such a thing as Christian theology. Approximately one third of the Christian Scriptures are written by Paul directly (the authentic seven letters), written by Paul’s students (Colossians and Ephesians), attributed to Paul (2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, and Titus), or written largely about Paul (Acts of the Apostles).

There are those who say that Paul is the founder of the Christian religion, a case one could strongly make. Jesus proclaims the Reign of God; Paul gives shape and structure to the implications of that message. He tries to bring Jesus’ teaching down to a practical, ethical, pastoral level, so that it can “happen.” Paul wants to create a concrete vehicle for the Christ vision. He begins the inevitable organization of the message, the ministry, and the shape of what became Christianity. Whether or not we like it, Christians have to acknowledge and pay attention to Paul.

Gateway to Silence:
“I live no longer, not I; but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Adapted from Jesus as Liberator/Paul as Liberator (MP3 download);
St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (CD and MP3 download);
Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 1 (CD)

Image credit: “The Conversion of St. Paul, 1600 (detail),” Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1573-1610), Cerasi Chapel, Rome, Italy.
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