May 1, 2022
Acts 9: 19-19
Saul is sitting on the edge of a bed in a room in Damascus.
Three days earlier, he and his companions from Jerusalem were on the way to the northern city. He carried a letter from the religious leaders that gave him the authority to arrest followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial, imprisonment or execution.
It was nothing that he hadn’t done before. Saul’s record spoke for itself. He would root out those troublemakers out of the synagogue with his usual ruthless efficiency.
Saul hated the disciples for advocating things that went against his understanding of a life of faith. He threatened them with each breath.
Anglican scholar N.T. Wright wrote a biography on Paul.
In it, he wrote about Saul’s zeal for persecuting the followers of Jesus:
“Saul had been absolutely right in his devotion to the One God, but absolutely wrong in his understanding of who was that One God and how his purposes would be fulfilled. … He had a real zeal for God, but had not understood what God was up to.”
That all changed as they walked on the road to Damascus.
There was a flash of light and he heard a voice … the voice asks why he was persecuting the Lord … why was he persecuting Jesus by persecuting his followers?
The others had told him that heard voices, but they all denied seeing anything.
Since that moment, he had been blind. If it weren’t for the men with him, Saul would have been stranded or even dead by now.
Now, he sat there in his darkness … he wasn’t hungry or thirsty … he just prayed to God for his sight to return … he prayed for the Lord to guide his steps.
There was a knock at the door … a loud knock … a knock that implied purpose and conviction.
Saul could hear the door open … he could hear people talking … someone had been sent for him … suddenly he felt hands touching his head … he heard this man Ananias tell him that the Lord had sent him … that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.
This Ananias person … this disciple … was praying for him.
Suddenly, the scales fell from his eyes and Saul could see again.
Some consider what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus and in the room with Ananias to be a conversion. However, he never really converted to anything … he remained a Jew … he remained faithful to God. And during Saul’s … or if you prefer, Paul’s time, people didn’t think in terms of switching religions like we do nowadays.
Saul-slash-Paul changed the way he served God.
So, perhaps, the word “transformation” is a more accurate way of describing what happened.
After all, that’s what Jesus does … transforms … a process that begins when Jesus touches a life and brings the promise of something new.
If you remember last week, Jesus appeared to the disciples after they had locked themselves in a house. The disciples were afraid that they would be arrested and imprisoned by the Roman rulers or persecuted by someone like Saul.
Jesus appeared twice … the second time to satisfy Thomas.
Both times he offered peace to those present … an untroubled heart, but one that is filled with the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes onto them.
Mary Magdalene … the disciples … Thomas and now Saul … all transformed when Jesus touched their lives.
This week’s passage from Acts is about what we do when the Spirit comes upon us … and about how faith can change things.
Saul’s transformation toward true understanding comes when the Spirit enters him … and guides him … calls him … toward something different.
But Saul-slash-Paul isn’t only character of this story who is transformed by God’s actions.
Ananias also changes in the course of this passage and this change might resonate a bit more than Paul’s encounter with Jesus in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Damascus.
You can image the fear and uncertainty Ananias felt when word that Saul … the infamous persecutor … was on his way to Damascus to arrest the disciples who were in the city. Ananias has no idea what had happened on the road … he has no idea what God had done in Saul’s life.
Then, God comes to him and instructs Ananias to go to Saul and embrace him as a brother … to help him see clearly by sharing the promise of the risen Christ with him.
Ananias cannot believe the instructions … to go to someone whose reputation is filled with evil acts … bringing people before the high priests for punishment. The thought, “Is the Lord sending me into a trap?” probably flashed through Ananias’ mind.
Ultimately, Ananias trusts God.
In a faith-filled act, Ananias goes to Saul and calls him “brother.”
Saul certainly wouldn’t expect God’s love … God’s grace … to extend outward from this disciple … welcoming all … embracing all … even the man who had been threatening their lives.
Some people want that Damascus road moment … when God dramatically flashes into their lives and changes everything.
But maybe waiting for that burst of light means we don’t see those smaller moments when we are called to let go of our anger … our suspicions … our assumptions or bias … and simply go and pray for or with someone.
By putting aside his fears and serving someone who hates him and all he stands for, Ananias models how such grace can be carried outward into the world … and how our life and lives around us are transformed by that act.
That is what it means to be a reconciling people … bringing together those who have been kept apart by … by going to uncomfortable places and embracing unfamiliar people.
Being a reconciling people means that we recognize that we do not know what God has done in the lives of others … and that we are all sisters and brothers … we are all children of God.