When we read the story of Saul's conversion in Acts, the way he was blinded on the road to Damascus, the short sentence about spending three days in this condition, and the way a man from another town came and restored his sight, we often miss the full impact of what was happening here. We read the story and focus on what others saw happening to Saul, what we see happening to Saul.
But what about what Saul saw?
This, I think, is the real beauty of the story. And it is where we, as Christians, have the most to learn.
Saul had set out to persecute Christians in Damascus. He had official letters permitting him this work. Everyone in all the region know about Saul and his zealousness for the Temple, for the "real" worship of Judaism. Everyone in all the region knew the way he detested Christians and the very real threat he posed them, wherever they were found. And this is what Saul is on his way to do - terrify more Christians, capture and persecute them. Perhaps even put them to death.
Ananias knew this. He knew this too well. When we see the messenger of the Lord appear to him and guide him to go to this "man named Saul," Ananias says no way. It's a death sentence. It's a trap. This messenger of the Lord must be mistaken; does he not know who this Saul is to whom he is sending the man?
But Ananias goes. And Saul, who did not see, but only heard, the One who blinded him, opens his eyes to see standing before him...of all things...a Christian.
We read right past this moment, but we shouldn't. We can't. This is the beauty of the whole story. I mean, the God thing is cool - all the blindness and restoration of sight and miraculous and all that stuff. But this...this human element, this is the key to everything.
Saul, who has made a profession out of hating Christians, opens his eyes, and that's the first thing he sees. Not just a Christian, but a Christian who is unafraid to be so close to him. A Christian who stands before him without fear. A Christian who was willing to come and even touch him at the command of the messenger of God.
Maybe most of you don't get this, I don't know. But when you've spent your life being tough, when you've built your reputation on being terrifying, when you've invested your days into making sure that certain people stay away from you, having someone stand boldly in front of you who doesn't buy your bravado is a powerful experience. The way this Christian just...stands there. Man, Saul had to have this moment of, "WHY are you not afraid of me???" and then, more quietly, "Thank you for not being afraid of me."
Because when God turns your heart, you just don't want people to be afraid of you any more. You don't want people to hold you to being the person you always were, not when you know that you're not that person any more. So there's this powerful moment here, but that's not all.
Not only is this Christian standing there, having placed his hands on Saul's eyes to open them (knowing that he would be the first thing the persecutor would see), but Saul permitted himself to be touched by a Christian.
I don't know if he knew that Ananias was a Christian as this was all unfolding or understood it only after his eyes had been opened. I don't know if he thought God was going to send a Jewish redeemer to him or whatever. But Paul did not recoil when he figured out it was a Christian who touched him. The very thing he so despised had reached out in tenderness and healed him.
It's so easy for us to read right past all of this, since God did such a big thing here - at least three miraculous events all tied up into this narrative. God blinded the man, healed him, and changed his heart. That's pretty cool.
But the very real human element is also really cool. And spoiler alert - every good God story has this very real human element. God never does anything just to be God. He doesn't do anything just because He can. Everything God does is tied into our stories in some powerful, meaningful way, and if we are able to see through Saul's restored eyes, even just a little bit, we start to see how powerful and meaningful the human element in this story is.
And that ought to be an encouragement to us. That ought to be a lesson for us. This ought to be a scene from which we, as the faithful, learn a great deal. We may not be able to blind a man, or to restore his sight, and we may not be blinded ourselves, but we all have a bit of Ananias in us. We all have this call on our lives to go, unafraid, and stand boldly before the terrifying, touch the one who may not want to be touched by us, and restore him.
In fact, this is the very thing our world needs more of from us. ....