The first line caught me in our reading today. Sau..l breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. What an image. Threats and murder are the very air Saul breathes….they are what gives him a reason to live. His hatred consumes him entirely…his desire to destroy….to to do violence. You’ll notice, he is the one who approaches the high priests, like a knight looking for a mission. Send me to war on your behalf. Send me to root out the infidels…to wipe out the enemies. He is a zealot and does not shirk from brutality. I don’t know…I guess it caught me…because in many popular stories…Saul would be the hero. The avenger against evil.. Deadpool or Rambo or even Batman…going after the bad guys with vigilante justice. Delighting in violence while doing what is supposedly “good”.
And then the light from heaven flashes around him. Knocking him down. Blinding him. And asking “Saul, Saul…why are you doing this to me?” Saul is stopped in his tracks by the light…and the voice of Jesus that calls him out of the darknessand into the light.
Here’s the thing…Saul is as religious as they come. He is on the side of the righteous…he really is. But he is still in darkness. Because threats and murder are the stuff of darkness. You remember when Jesus talked about how he was the good shepherd….he said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The impulse we have to steal…to kill…to destroy….is never of God. The impulse we have to hate…to seek vengeance…is never of God. To protect the vulnerable…that is God’s work. To stand in harm’s way when others are being attacked… that is God’s work. But breathing threats and murder is not. Even if it is against those who you believe are ungodly. That is the darkness that twists our souls…it poisons the air we breathe. Saul is in darkness…breathing poison…and Jesus calls him into the light…Jesus wants to give Saul life.
So what is poisoning our air and twisting our souls? Is it resentment? Is it fear? Is it the news we watch? Or the social media we consume? What feeds the darkness?
Many of you may have heard the story of the old Cherokee Indian chief who was teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he told the young boy, “a fight between two wolves.
One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you grandson…and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.”
The grandson ponders this for a moment and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee smiled and simply said, “The one you feed”.
The darkness is so easy to feed…all those base impulses. Those flames are fanned quickly. It doesn’t take much to get my righteous anger riled up….you know, at all “those” people. And the horrible things “they” are doing. It’s easy to get myself all worked up and resentful about people who I think aren’t good or nice or fair or right. And then it turns out I’m not so different from Saul…there’s something in me that just wants to get rid of all the people I think are bad…and there I am, cheering on the Avenger.
But when I do…when I feel that way?… I think Jesus is the one who knocks me off my high horse and says “what on earth do you think you’re doing?” “Why are you hurting me?” And challenges me to do the hard work…that leads to life. The hard work of loving enemies. The hard work of laying down one’s life for one’s friends. The hard work of washing feet …of serving even the people I don’t like…and remembering Jesus is present in them as well. Jesus invites me into the light. And says that is where there is joy. That is where there is abundant life.
Resentments and desire for revenge are easy to stoke. Forgiveness and mercy…not so much. But that is the way of Jesus. Jesus blinds Saul with Light…and offers him grace through Ananias. I, for one, am in awe of Ananias. Here is Saul, his enemy…the one who intends to kill him…and Saul is blind and vulnerable. He is finally humiliated, that egotistic jerk. But when Ananias comes to him…he lays his hands on him and calls him “Brother.”
Holy smokes….that knocks my socks off. When my back is up about somebody, I would have wanted to at least say something. Make them acknowledge all the wrong they’ve done. I mean a little sarcasm is in order, at least. I can feel that self-righteous anger in me even now when I think of some folks who make me so mad.. But Ananias is somehow able to set all that aside, to accept Saul, to show mercy on him…and to trust that the Holy Spirit of God can work through him and will work through him.
Ananias chooses the light. He chooses Jesus. He chooses mercy. And with this act of faith by Ananias, the scales fall from Saul’s eyes. The darkness drops away…and Saul sees the world anew. Sees the world differently. Sees the world as Jesus sees the world.
Saul is the same one who wrote many of the letters in our Bible…and he would go on to say “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The light of Jesus changed everything…filled him so completely…that it wasn’t even him anymore. The light of Jesus chased away the shadows of hate and anger that were his daily breath and replaced them with faith, hope and love.
And that, my friends, is the life we are invited into. The light we are invited into each and every day. We are invited to feed the light of faith, hope and love instead of darkness. To drink in the presence of Jesus, to feast on his grace…so that he lives in us…showering us with mercy and giving us eyes of mercy so we dare to reach out, even to those we fear, with a word of grace…seeing them as brothers and sisters.
I like this story because some days, we will be Saul, needing to be blinded by the light of Jesus, calling us out of our darkness and the toxic environments we live in.. And some days we will be Ananias, called to care about people we don’t want to. But every day, we are called beloved children of God. Children of Light. May you let your light shine. Amen