Friday, May 1, 2009

The Tollway to Damascus

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker
May Day
(International Workers' Day - most countries except US & Canada)

Today's Word:
Acts 9:1-20 (The conversion of Saul of Tarsus)
Psalm 117 (The fidelity of the Lord endures forever)
John 6:52-59 (The Bread of Live Discourse VI: "Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you")

I've mentioned a couple of times in this series that the road that leads to Heaven must ultimately come to the outskirts of Calvary. There are no bypasses, no alternate routes. If you are among the followers of Jesus Christ, you will reach a point somewhere along the way where you will either abandon everything you can't carry in lieu of the hope and promise of what awaits beyond Calvary, or you will turn back.

There was, of course, only one true event at Calvary; and that was all God's doing in Jesus. For the rest of us, there's still a literal aspect as we will all eventually leave this life. Along the way, though, we will have our own figurative events we can liken to that at Calvary. Some seem larger than life at the time. However, these events can shape and mold our determination to finish the journey. 

While Jesus paid the ultimate price for all, there's still the matter of what we do to each other; how our interactions create a chain of events that affect our relationship with God. Charles Dickens seems to illustrate this best in A Christmas Carol: the ghost of Jacob Marley appears bound by the chain he forged in life, a life indicative of a serious imbalance between personal profit and almsgiving. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) Jesus establishes the criteria, summed up in v.40: Whatever you do for the least of my people, you do for me. The opposite also applies.

Saul of Tarsus had his mind on extinguishing the Light, once and for all. He was leading the charge in and around Jerusalem, having people arrested simply because they were disciples of "The Way" (as the early Christian movement came to be called). Knowing that Philip, Peter, and John had spread their preaching into Samaria, he got clearance to arrest disciples from Jerusalem all the way to Damascus. He set off for Damascus to carry this out when the time came for Saul to be blinded -literally - by the very Light he had figured to put out. This day, the road to Damascus, normally a free journey, would exact a price from Saul.

Some accounts indicate that Saul was on horseback and was thrown off his mount. In the NAB translation, Luke states that "a light from the sky suddenly flashed" around Saul; in short, he was struck by lightning, with or without the accompanying thunderstorm. A disparate voice thundered at Saul and those traveling with him, "Why are you persecuting me?"

Never in Saul's life had he expected this to happen. Further, the voice identified himself as Jesus. Saul had never met him, and in his mind thought he knew more than he ever wanted to about him. Saul was instructed to continue his journey to Damascus where he would learn his own fate. Now blinded, he abandoned the task at hand, and for three days had to be led around by his companions, obviously fearful of what might happen when they arrived in the city.

Saul might have thought his life was over; that in Damascus he would be taken before less than friendly authorities who would call for his imprisonment or execution. But with his sight gone, Jesus hands him something to hope for - that at least his sight will be restored. In the course of those three days he gave up food and drink, continually replaying the events in his mind and seeing them in his mind's eye.

Meanwhile, in Damascus a disciple named Ananias learns that the Lord will use him as an instrument of prayer and healing to restore Saul's sight. Ananias knows Saul's reputation and is unsure of the prospect. Still, he's also well aware that the Lord has moved in mysterious ways before, so he meets Saul and restores his sight.

Three days can be an eternity when life is hanging in the balance. When Saul's sight is restored by a disciple of The Way, and without trepidation or precondition, he begins to understand that he will bear the cost of conversion for the rest of his life. He will become the most prolific preacher and writer of the New Covenant, eclipsing any of the apostles who actually walked with Jesus in the flesh. His sincerest motivation would become serving the Lord and Master of his life, which he did most lovingly.

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