By Ajit John
A Reading from Acts 9:10-19
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 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, 12 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.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 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; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 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.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus.
Sometimes we pray for great reversals and we work assiduously for them. The results can take years, even decades. But when God arranges great reversals the results can also be immediate. Such is the case of the conversion of Saul to Paul on the road to Damascus.
The aftermath is recorded in Acts 9. When Ananias is given divine instruction about going out to greet Saul of Tarsus, he is confronted with a great reversal of staggering proportions. A notorious persecutor of Christians is to be given a new vocation and a new name. The news is hard to take in. Someone who spent his life zealously working for the strict adherence to Torah is to be taking the news of Jesus the Messiah to the uncircumcised. Even the core leadership among the apostles take a very long time to grasp the change, to see that repentance and the forgiveness of sins is to be preached outside Israel.
We all yearn for stunning reversals and transformations. But when they happen we are not ready for the impact. Take the words of the Lord about Paul. Not only would he be directing his energy toward Gentiles in the far reaches of the Roman Empire, he would in the course of it be shown the path of suffering. “I myself,” says Jesus, “will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” It’s a reversal Paul would not have expected about his future.
There is a mystery here in this great reversal to which all the saints testify. The depth of the love of God in Jesus can only be fully grasped in faithful service that will include suffering. Every great call to service will contain something of this. You cannot plumb the depths of God’s love nor the glory of the Resurrection without sharing in Christ’s sufferings, said Paul in his later epistles. It’s not something one often hears at a service of ordination, though every candidate I have spoken to knows it deep down.
Great reversals change the world but sanctify our souls.
The Rev. Ajit John is an associate priest at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux, a vibrant multi-ethnic parish in Toronto, Canada.
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Church of the Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain, Tenn.
The Diocese of Northern Mexico – La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico