PASSAGE: Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
COMMENT: From a fear-based perspective, Saul would be the least likely candidate to be called as a minister of the new “gospel” of Jesus Christ. But we have only to look at the truly amazing work that Saul accomplished in his ministry to recognize that divine perception is very different from our mortal perspective. I think we can see by the fearful way in which Ananias responds to Jesus’ calling that he would never have risked as much, suffered as much and pushed himself beyond his personal comfort zone as much as Saul/Paul would do throughout Asia Minor and Greece. Jesus Christ knew the potential Saul had within him to become Paul—a passionate and persistent advocate for the message of the Christ. Saul’s ensuing blindness is perhaps a metaphysical description of the fact that he and we must become “blind” to everything we think we know before we can be filled with a new message, a new awareness, and a new sense of personal empowerment.
Acts 22:3-21 tells the same story from Saul’s perspective, in a speech he makes years later to the people of Jerusalem when he has been brought before the tribunal and charged with causing an insurrection in the Temple. In his own defense, he describes his conversion experience and his later guidance that he should carry his message to the Gentiles, rather than work among the Jews, who would be more dubious about his sudden change of heart.
In Acts 26:4-18, Paul repeats the story of his conversion experience, this time before the king, Herod Agrippa, who ruled parts of Palestine on behalf of the Roman Empire. Paul was fearful of a Jewish tribunal, and exercised his right as a Roman citizen to “appeal to Caesar” and be tried in a Roman court.
There are minor differences among the three versions of the story (as there would be in remembering details at different times), but the spiritual impact is the same. It reminds me of Jonah, in that no matter how far we may feel we have traveled to escape our spiritual purpose, it will find us in the end. We all have unique spiritual purposes that bring us into these human experiences. We may forget them for long periods of time. But at some time we will be called. If we ignore the call, we will be “blind” to the energy of the divine that seeks to move through us.