6 One day about noon I was getting close to Damascus, when a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. 7I fell to the ground and heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you so cruel to me?”
8“Who are you?” I answered.
The Lord replied, “I am Jesus from Nazareth! I am the one you are so cruel to.” 9Those who were traveling with me saw the light, but did not hear the voice.
10I asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
Then he told me, “Get up and go to Damascus. When you get there, you will be told what to do.” 11The light had been so bright that I couldn't see. And the others had to lead me by the hand to Damascus.
12In that city there was a man named Ananias, who faithfully obeyed the Law of Moses and was well liked by all the Jewish people living there. 13He came to me and said, “Saul, my friend, you can now see again!”
At once I could see. 14Then Ananias told me, “The God that our ancestors worshiped has chosen you to know what he wants done. He has chosen you to see the One Who Obeys God and to hear his voice. 15You must tell everyone what you have seen and heard. 16What are you waiting for? Get up! Be baptized, and wash away your sins by praying to the Lord.”
17After this I returned to Jerusalem and went to the temple to pray. There I had a vision 18of the Lord who said to me, “Hurry and leave Jerusalem! The people won't listen to what you say about me.”
19I replied, “Lord, they know that in many of our synagogues I arrested and beat people who had faith in you. 20 Stephen was killed because he spoke for you, and I stood there and cheered them on. I even guarded the clothes of the men who murdered him.”
21But the Lord told me to go, and he promised to send me far away to the Gentiles.
Over the years of Christian mission abroad there have been harrowing tales of missionaries who faced danger and death. However no one could have had a more difficult assignment than Paul and his companions as they faced their enemies in Jerusalem. Paul tried to make them understand his strong roots in Jewish religion. He reminded them that he was not some alien but rather he was a Jew who had studied under the esteemed scholar, Gamaliel. His training included the careful study of Jewish laws and customs.
And as evidence of his religious commitment, he reminded them that no one had been more diligent in persecuting Christians than he once was.
At this point he relates his conversion experience. It wasn’t a case of him reaching out for Jesus. In fact Jesus reached out to him.
That’s like all of us, isn’t it? We may begin by thinking that we came to God by our own efforts. It is only afterwards that we realize that God had taken the initiative all along. God loved us so much he gave his Son to bear our sin on the cross so that through his death and resurrection we could have eternal life. Saul of Tarsus, blind and totally bewildered, asked the Lord what he should do. He was told to go to Damascus, where his sight was restored. He was told to confess that he was a sinner and be baptized. It had probably never crossed his mind that he needed forgiveness for his sins. “What sins?” he must have thought. He was a proud Pharisee, a leader among the elite.
Then Paul received the word from Jesus that his life was in danger and he must leave Jerusalem. How could this be, he wondered? Surely no one could be better prepared to reach Jews than him.
He had difficulty realizing that those who had been his supporters were now his enemies.
And so Paul was being sent to the Gentile world to preach the Gospel.
And so with us. The Lord doesn’t always let us witness in our comfort zone but will continually stretch us.
We know, Lord, that truth will often face opposition. No matter how severe the criticism, keep us faithful speaking and living the Good News. In Jesus’ name, Amen.