Today’s story from scripture is the conversion of Saul – the persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ – into Paul – the bringer of the gospel to the gentiles and Apostle of Christ. Two complete opposites of the one complex person.
It took an encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus for Saul to begin to ‘see’ (remember Saul was blinded by the light from heaven) just what it was that he was being called to do as part of the coming Kingdom of God. When we read Acts 7, the stoning of Stephen, we read that Saul was present at Stephen’s death and probably played an instrumental part of that stoning. Following Stephen’s death Saul began to seek out followers of the Way and throwing them into prison.
Now I’m sure we can all think of people we know or have heard of who have changed in one way or another, hopefully for the better. The changes may not be as drastic as Saul becoming Paul, but they have been noticeable. For some of us the change from not believing in Jesus to believing in Jesus has meant a new path for us. Some of us have always been part of a family of faith so conversion is a little hard for us to understand, but we’ve all had moments when we’ve had to stand up and declare our faith in God.
For Paul, becoming a follower of Christ was not going to be an easy thing. To start with his reputation would have preceded him and he would have been treated with hatred and suspicion. For those of us who know a little more of the story of Paul we know that life on this new path was not easy. There were numerous times in goal, there were ship wrecks, there were arguments with Peter and the other Apostles, there were times when his life was threatened and finally, he was killed. This new path for Paul was one of service, one of journey and one of amazing connections with the growing Kingdom of God. Would we have done the same? Restored (The Conversion of Saul)
By Lisle Gwynn Garrity Inspired by Acts 9:1-20 – charcoal & ink on paper
Saul doesn’t just persecute Jesus’ followers, he breathes threats and murder. His hatred fumes out of him like fire, perhaps a fire tended by fear – fear that his Jewish tradition will become impure or distorted, fear that the walls he’s built around who’s in and out will crumble, fear that his own hard-earned piety will diminish. He’s a force of terror, sculpted by self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. He’s a religious extremist not so unlike the ones we know of today.
Until God smacks him down, pulling his sight and self-reliance out from under him like a rug. God softens Saul’s steely heart by forcing him to confront those whom he harms, and by making him utterly dependent on relationship and others to survive. Perhaps Saul’s conversion is ultimately a radical healing – God soothes his fear and hatred with empathy and intimacy.
But this isn’t just a story about Saul’s transformation. His companions on the road to Damascus are changed too, as they hear the voice of the risen Christ and escort a stumbling Saul to the city. Ananias’ conversion is the most courageous of them all. He risks everything, including his own life, to come close to one with the power to have him stoned. Only in the moments when Ananias’ fingers touch Saul’s eyes, does Saul see, for the first time, the image of the divine in one who is not his enemy, but his brother.
In this image, a halo hovers around the an of Ananias, nodding to the sacred courage required to melt the hatred of his oppressor with intimacy and connection. Scales pour out of Saul’s eyes, purging him, cleansing him, igniting him with a new and particular mission: to pour out God’s grace wherever humans try to limit it.
— Lisle Gwynn Garrity