Growing up, I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–the television series, the movies, the action figures, and everything that went with them. I even remember there being a live touring performance. These days, I’m not quite as up to date on what’s happening with the turtles, but there’s one thing I still appreciate about my 90’s obsession: I knew who the good guys were. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Rafael were good. Shredder was not. It was a simpler time with clear lines. If we’re honest, there’s something we like about that. We want clean categories like good guys and bad guys, us and them. It’s just easier that way. The problem is that isn’t the way the world works, especially when Jesus gets involved.
Take Saul as an example. He approved of Stephen’s execution, ravaging the church and imprisoning followers of Jesus. How do we categorize Saul? Bad guy, probably, but what do we do with that? Do we write him off completely? Do we seek his destruction? Or do we just excuse away his behavior as the kind of mistakes we all make? Jesus went with none of the above. When Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, he didn’t minimize the havoc Saul was wreaking on the church. If anything, he magnified it by confronting Saul directly, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus didn’t meet Saul’s violence with more violence either. It’s almost as if Jesus doesn’t view the world in the super clean categories of good people and bad people. That doesn’t mean nobody ever gets held accountable for the wrong they perpetrate in this life, but it does mean that the worst part of our past doesn’t have to be what defines our future. Saul’s story of transformation extends the hope of redemption to all people, no matter how we might be tempted to classify them.