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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before April 10, 2016

Acts 9:1-20

9Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and 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. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul 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. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The 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, 12and 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.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But 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; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17So 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.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

What I am Learning:

Ancient peoples in the Mediterranean world thought that the heart was the seat of consciousness. They thought that the heart and the eyes are connected. When your heart is full of darkness you see darkness. When your heart is full of light you see light.

Those of us who have gone through a depression can relate to this. Even a sunny day or a happy moment can be shaded with our deep feelings of despondency.

But these ancient peoples didn't only think that a darkened heart can alter our perceptions. For them, the light we see does not come from the sun or moon or lamp, but from the lamp of the heart which shines out our eyes. The light transmitted by our eyes gets reflected back to us. This light also has an effect on the the things and persons we see.

In their understanding, when our hearts are full of darkness, that is the absence of God, the "dark light" that comes our eyes can make others ill. It can curse others. When our hearts are full of light, that is the presence of God, this light comes out our eyes and blesses others.

They called the dark light the "evil eye."

In this famous passage the darkness of Saul's heart is revealed by his becoming blind. Christ transforms Saul's heart to the joy and presence of God gives him new sight and a new name and a new vision of the world.

He goes from persecuting and killing the servants of Jesus to becoming one of them.

Ananias of course is changed, too. When Jesus calls him to go, he announces his willingness by the ancient response to call: "Here am I, send me."

But when he hears who he is being sent to, he shares his concern with the risen Christ.

There is something comforting to me about this. Jesus does not scold him for his question, but rather clarifies the situation for Ananias. God does not want us to shut off our brain when we hear the call of God. We are invited to question and confirm, to discern and to wonder.

The faith of Ananias is expressed in both his question and in his response to God's call.

Without a word of contrition from Saul, Ananias lays hands on him and brings him healing, not just to his eyes, but to a heart that could not see the hope that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, was bringing into the world.

Our hearts can become filled with darkness, too. We may not imagine the relationship of the heart and the eyes in the same way as the ancient people did. We may not think of our eyes as bat-like sonar, both sending and receiving light. But we do know that fear and anxiety and despair can fill us to the point where we breathe threats against others; or just as likely ourselves.

But God can lovingly confront us in our darkness of heart and after three days, raise us as God raised Saul of Tarsus to new life, new vision, new hope.

Place your light in our hearts, O God, that our eyes may shine with blessing for all your beloved ones. Amen.