Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Easter 3 - Year C
Who are you?
Where are you?
What are you?
I can hear you but not see you. This is darkness.
I can still hear you and now see you in those I persecute. This is light.
From Brian McLaren’s book, “Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices”
If you’ve lost your way to the desired destination, you’re in shallow trouble. But if in the process you’ve also lost the address you were supposed to visit, your trouble just got deep. If you don’t realize you’ve forgotten what your desired destination is, you’re in the bottomless pit the great Dane Soren Kierkegaard called the deepest level of despair—namely, to be in a hopeless situation but not realize it or feel bad about it.
A common destination is too often particularized. Individuals and homogenous groups have claimed exemption from having to rethink their understanding. It is everyone else who needs to come around. “If they don’t get my vision, ‘Off with their head!’”
May we continue to hear our name called and respond with behavior becoming a beloved.
Saul took advantage of the permissiveness of the PATRIOT Act to invade privacy and went after folks with a vengeance and learned, too late for those he had destroyed, a new, greater, way. This might be seen as a retelling of the Jonah story where a desire for destruction of others is paramount and then came a willingness to warn, no matter how reluctantly, against destruction that it might not happen. Jesus says it is this Jonah story that will make sense of the world.
Being swallowed by a whale, being struck blind on the road, challenged by a tablecloth or your own experience of being caught as less than you could be - all these are accompanied by graceful folks, no matter how hesitant, such as "voice of G*D," Ananias, Cornelius, or your own such catalyst.
Wherever one is - Jerusalem, Damascus, Joppa, Caesarea, or a location near you - there is need of a growth experience that brings forth more than we have been.
So, sisters Jo and brothers Jon, let's take a big breath and let it out, slow and long, in a such a way that we are relaxed into AH. Now we're ready for the rest of our story.
Little Shop of Horrors has a lovely song, Suddenly Seymour.
You may want to begin making some additional connections:
Suddenly Saul (breathing threats descends upon a follower of Jesus)
Suddenly Jesus (or light) (stops violence)
Suddenly Scales (arrive - justice revealed up-close-and-personal)
Suddenly Vision (though not suddenly acted upon)
Suddenly Ananias (with healing hands, not violent ones)
Suddenly Scales (depart - lesson learned)
[Note: Another helpful approach is by Walter Bruggemann.]
- - -
would we see ourselves
as others see us?
for to see ourselves
as others see us
When I recently re-read the following paragraph by Dorothy Soelle in The Window of Vulnerability: A Political Spirituality, it led me to wonder about this Saul to Paul conversion as part of a conversion from patriarchy to feminism. I know it is easy to put Paul in an anti-feminist group, but remember that even sudden conversions have a learning curve to them a situation in which they abide.
"Let me give an example of how theology can change when women do it; that is, when new subjects reflect on theological tradition. Sin, in the dominant, Protestant-influenced interpretation, is "wanting to be like God." It is the search for power, for superiority; it is overestimation of the self; it is pride; it is disobedience. But women who have become aware of their situation and have asked themselves, for the first time, whether they would really consider this type of sin to be the worst of all have come to quite different conclusions. They have said it is just the opposite. Our sin is not that of self-exaltation and pride; it is self-denial, selflessness in the bad sense of the word, the surrender of any kind of genuine self, underdevelopment of the self, conformity to the dominant structure, lack of pride in being a woman, obedience. Sin is submission to this sexist model of society. It is failure to realize God's image in oneself, and bowing in fearful humility. That means that we need a totally different definition of sin if we want to talk seriously about the ways in which we mess up our lives and how women are destroyed in our society, how it happens that they never really come to life, and what is the source of all that."
Now that sin can be seen as not simply power, but also submission, how do you apply those to their appropriate situations and what might be a third and fourth helpful definition of sin that will continue deepening your insight into your own way of being as well as broadening your application of it in the variety of lives you encounter. Again, definitions of sin are not the goal, but they aid in an analysis that allows seeing farther, seeing more, and transforming life situations.
From the musical Little Shop of Horrors there is a wonderful little song, Suddenly, Seymour. This leads us into seeing more - which is what a connection with in-the-beginning does for us. It moves us from what we are against to what we are doing to move a once and future beginning onward.
Saul looks into darkness and sees a vision of a new relationship. From persecuting nameless followers of Jesus to looking forward to a very specific follower with a name, Ananias. In moving from the ease of anonymity to a real person, Saul makes a trip to Paul, from abuser to advocate.
This is a moment of realization, just like Seymour and Audrey in the song above. Scales fall from eyes, sight is restored, assurance comes to the fore from out of the background.
Can such a conversion be trusted. Perhaps, but testing comes first. Saul will be tested by others in Damascus and by himself in the wilderness (both are important). A new relationship will be forged in the testings and Paul's challenge will be similar to Peter's - to follow Jesus' way without turning it into a technique, creed, or literalism. This challenge continues - it is ours.