A Trip to Damascus – by Sarah Chapman
Theological Reflection – Sunday April 14, 2013
Sarah Chapman is a young adult, ordained minister of the United Church of Canada. She is currently ministering at Willowdale United Church in Toronto, Ontario. In October 2012, she had the opportunity to attend Re:Generate: An inter-generational gathering, hosted by KAIROS and continues to feel connected to and supportive of KAIROS’ incredible work.
I participate in a lectionary-based church, so I decided to focus on this week’s lectionary text from Acts 9:1-11, 17-20: “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. […] 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. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
This passage about Saul’s conversion always gets me. It has a richness that is both easy to picture and easy to connect with. Here, we encounter a description of a physical transformation and also a spiritual one – an act of both metaphorical vision loss and the physical act of letting go. As it says, scales from Saul’s eyes dropped to the ground.
Likely, we have all had our own vision drastically shaken by new ideas at one or many points in our lives. In some small or large way, we have all experienced a great transformation like Saul. Travelling down one road only to find oneself drastically shifted to another.
That has been my experience of justice. Through my connections with what it means to live out God’s call of justice, I continue to encounter moments when my vision is cleared of scales. This passage from Acts helps me to name, and be confronted by, things I haven’t even considered, hardships that are faced, systemic injustices that have been caused by or perpetuated by my own actions and the actions of my ancestors – which my ignorance and privilege have kept me from seeing fully.
I clearly remember the first time that I felt this drastic transformation, like Saul, as I watched as the scales from my eyes fell to the ground. It was when I first heard about residential schools. I was nineteen years old. In most places in my life (especially in the church) being under the age of fifty-five seems young. But in this case, nineteen felt ancient. It was ancient because it was the first time I was even hearing the words ‘residential schools’ uttered. I felt myself fall to my knees as I heard the whispers, ‘why do you persecute me?’ In your ignorance, comfort and privilege, why do you persecute me. I remember wondering “how could I be involved in persecuting Indigenous people in this way, and not even know it? How could all of the people in my life be involved, too – my mentors, family, and my church? How come my history teachers had never told me about this tragic and significant part of history; how could they not even mention this part of the story?”
Similarly, I have had many other experiences of travelling down this comfortable road only to find my life dramatically confronted – experiences where I discover that I am helping myself while hurting others. Last week, while the Nishiyuu walkers journeyed into Ottawa – fellow young adults and youth – I was confronted again. While I travelled my own confortable journey, these men and women were walking a very different journey – one that calls us all to clear the scales from our vision and stand up. May we long to walk this road together.
Saul’s story stirs in me big questions. It stirs me to ask how might we be breathing threats against others? Saul breathed these threats outwardly but how do we do it without even knowing? How do the ways we consume, the ways we live, breath threats against others? How many trips down our own comfortable roads must any of us take before we shed the scales from our rose-coloured lenses and see the injustice that is right before us?
How many trips towards Damascus must we take before we let go of the ways we persecute others, and let go of our own selfish visions?
How are we being called to leave a comfortable path in order to walk a road with others?