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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Today’s Reading | Acts 9:1–19
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. (NRSV)
This is the famous story of Paul’s conversion and therefore tempting to explicate, but I will resist and point us to something else God is doing. Saul (who later becomes Paul) is known by Ananias to be a persecutor, a man who has done great harm. Later, this same Ananias, led by God, calls Saul “brother.”
That is the “economy of God.” The labels are dismissed. The charges are dropped. The vengeful justice we would like to execute becomes the restorative justice that God carries through the body of Christ. In the courtroom where we are judge and jury, God calls us to forbear, to forgive, and to drop our charges so that we might remember all we’ve been forgiven and to see forgiveness as the vehicle through which God enacts an entirely new justice.
This justice doesn’t take away Saul’s responsibility: he will be called to difficult tasks throughout his ministry, and he will struggle within himself. Instead, both Saul and Ananias are empowered to be agents of transformation in the world—through forgiveness. The theologian Miroslav Volf issues a challenging word in his work, that at the center of Christianity is forgiveness and we cannot be Christians unless we participate in it. All else is commentary to the central challenge of accepting our own forgiveness, extending it to others, and living in the freedom that comes from it.
It is then that our enemies become a brother or sister, and we empower them to be who they truly are in Christ.
On this day, help me to let go of my labels of others and to reject others’ labels of me. On this day, help me to accept me own forgiveness and to extend it to others. On this day, help me to walk in the freedom of your forgiveness and, in so doing, remember and remind others of your unrelenting decision to be God for us, with us, and among us, by the power of your love. Amen.
Written by Edwin Estevez, Pastoral Resident
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