I KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Acts 9: 1-12
“Oh, I know who YOU are!” Whenever I am confronted by such an introduction, it unnerves me a little. My gut reaction is always, “I’m not even sure I know myself. How is it you think you know me?” Or my defensive reaction, “You know me? From where? Whose been talking about me?” Usually, my rationale prevails, and I admit, “Yes, I am the minister from Wesley.”
We know this character called Saul, don’t we? Oh, we Christians, we know all about Saul. That villain who was struck down by a flash of light with Jesus disembodied voice calling him out. Our hero, Jesus, showed him who was sheriff in town. Yea, we know this guy. We’ve heard all the stories. The one who was standing way over there, holding everyone else’s coats, while the rest of the Pharisees stoned Stephen to death making Stephen the first martyr of our faith.
Oh, we know this guy. innocently playing the coat check boy all the while having approved of this killing. Yes, this guy, who ravaged the early church and dragged both men and women off to prison. Yea, the guy who, armed with a search warrant, gathers a posse, rides out to Damascus to hunt and murder the ancestors of our faith. This was a take no prisoners mission. Oh, we know exactly who this guy is.
Yet, if you flip the coin over, you have to wonder if this was the story Saul was reading of his own life. I wonder if, when Jesus was badgering Saul with the accusation, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?,” Saul was thinking, “Me? A persecutor? Why, I am a defender of the faith. God’s champion.” If we look at things from Saul’s perspective, we have to admit that Saul loved God, loved and served God’s church. To his mind, it was this Jesus movement that was the radical threat to all that was holy and sacred. I don’t believe Saul was a heartless villain. Being a legal mind, I am sure he had done his homework on this Jesus, building his case before he started his campaign.
Major Ian Thomas dramatizes this part of Saul’s life for us. He writes as if he were Saul. “I, as Saul of Tarsus, made my own independent evaluation of this man called Jesus of Nazareth. I discerned his life to see if this was someone equipped to receive a call into the leadership of our church. I was not unfair. I was not unkind. I applied to him all the normal, natural standards by which I would evaluate any candidate for ministry.
I first looked into his ancestry and discovered there was a cloud over his birth right from the start. As I investigated more, it became quite clear that he was the illegitimate son of a faithless woman, who had been taken in by a kind-hearted carpenter who raised him as his own son. But he was an outcast from the beginning and socially he was lacking.
Then, I investigated his professional standing and discovered that, having been born of peasant stock, he had attended no schools. He was raised as a simple carpenter in a village that had no standing and professionally he was entirely lacking.
I then investigated his theological and ecclesiastical background. I found that he had sat at no one’s feet for learning, had not been to seminary, that he, in fact, had no training at all. And what he was saying to people had been repudiated by every authority. He was nothing more than an incorrigible street preacher and a pulpit pounding rabble-rouser.
Finally, I looked into his financial standing. He had no bank account; he had been born in a cave, had been laid in a borrowed manger and lived in other people’s homes. In fact, I discovered that he was a real scrounger; he was always borrowing things. He borrowed money to pay his taxes, borrowed his clothes from others, rode around on a borrowed donkey, ate his last meal in a borrowed upper room, died on a borrowed cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb.
So, I investigated Jesus as I would any candidate for ministry and found that he had neither the education, the skills, the standard of living, nor the theology to take on any leadership role within our church. In fact, history has shown that people like this are not only inadequate for ministry, they can be dangerous by leading people astray.
So, why would Saul have any occasion to think other than he was defending the integrity of his own faith from someone like Jesus?
Is it not human nature to do the wrong thing for the right reasons? Haven’t you done that? I certainly have.
You know as a parent what is right for your own child, right? No one knows your child better than you. Not even your child. They’re too young to have gained the wisdoms we have of the world. Yet, all of our good intentions can sometimes end up squashing dreams. In our certainty of knowing their abilities and seeing what they can become, we may fail to see who they are. In our certainty of what the world is to us, we may fail to see the reality of their worlds.
I know of what I speak here. You all know I am immensely proud of my son. There is no end to my bragging as to how ingenious this guy is. He can build and fix anything. My dreams? At least a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Only problem was, he hated school. So after grade 12, he took off to make his own way in the world, and it was most certainly not the path I had laid out for him. Yet, he has done well, is content with his life and he is happy, so what more can I ask? My plans for him might have given him a good profession with a pension and medical, but he would have probably been miserable. Or, at he very least, been someone who was at odds with himself. He knew his own heart better than I.
Or, to take this to the next level, what about the immigrant kid who is struggling to belong, who doesn’t know the language, who black, who has discovered he is LGBT and is being raised by Pentecostal parents who believe that homosexuality is an abomination.
So we could cry right along with Saul, couldn’t we? “Who me? A persecutor? I am protecting my child. I am a defender of my child.” But, what if Jesus is saying, “Why are you fighting me on this? I have a different plan for your child’s life.” Personally, it took me a little while to see the light and it was a critical conversion experience in my way of seeing what is best for my son and to let go and trust that.
There is something so important about this conversion story of Saul’s that Luke refers to it not less than three times in his gospel. There must be some pretty powerful spiritual takeaways from this story. For me, it makes me wonder if my own zeal for my faith, the zeal of the church, might be blinding me, or us, to God’s greater plan. Is there a possibility that those we see as being opposed to our ways, as even enemies, might just be a part of God’s transforming work in the world? Saul’s life was one lived in God’s law, creed and doctrine. Now, he is being received into the home of one people he had on his list to apprehend.
Ananias, for his part, experienced a conversion from fear, protection and door locking, to trusting in God’s voice, unlocking his door and inviting in the very one who was intent on killing him. For both men it was the conversion to putting their lives into that hands of a Living God, trusting in God’s way in spite of their own fears.
Saul, went from being someone who was used to doing the telling, to being the one who was now willing to be told. To one who was willing to trust the voice of God. He came to believe that this was no longer about him. It was about obedience and following, trusting in the wisdom of God even when it went against all he understood and valued, even when he could not understand it. For Saul, it was about letting go of the certainty of law and doctrine and being willing to follow the way of Jesus, this peasant who had failed his candidacy test for ministry.
The Way. A wonderful metaphor for our Christian lives. Instead of being identified by a set of beliefs, this new community is known by their character in the world. These faithful were characterized not by self-centeredness, not by self aggrandizement, not by the philosophy of ‘me first and the devil take the hindmost’, but by love, acceptance, understanding and tolerance. Many in that day would remark in amazement, “Look, how they love one another.”
That is what conversion is about. It is not about certainty. It is about following. It is the change from thinking that you can run your own life, to the acknowledgement that God holds the program for our lives. Maybe conversion is about surrendering. Maybe conversion is about accepting the reality that, having created us, God knows us better than we know ourselves, knows what she created us to become and do, and seeing what we can not, knowing what we can not, has another transforming plan for the world.
“Oh, I know who you are!”