“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.
I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” [Acts 9:8-16]
As a reading on reconciliation, the story of the conversion of Paul is exemplary. Here we have a type A persecutor brought low, blinded, dependent upon the guidance of his servants all the while breathing the borrowed breath of a gracious, forgiving Savior.
For some reason, myself and most people I know think that good relationships should be painless ones. We also have this tendency to think that life, and especially life in Christ, is about protection, safety and feeling secure. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have some friends who wanted a child more than anything. Their desire was not reconciled to nature…until they conceived. What a joy! What a Blessing! When their daughter was born, they noticed something was not quite right. She was born with Cystic Fibrosis.
I have some other friends that fell in love and got married. They were living the dream…until he was involved in an accident in which he walked away with his life, but not without a good deal of brain damage.
Once, I got cast in a lead role. My star was rising. Finally, people were showing respeC (with a capitol C). My game was on and I was a starter. That was just about the moment that my family informed me that we were moving across the country.
My wife and I, in our forties, adopted a perfect and beautiful baby boy from Ethiopia. Our desire for a child and God’s desire for caring for the widow and orphan were perfectly reconciled. Well, he’s not a baby anymore. HE’S A TODDLER! Whack-A-Mole! The pain is on…but we knew it was coming. It’s a kind of ‘suffering’ that’s a mixed blessing.
Jesus was concerned with Paul. Jesus wanted to be in relationship with Paul and it is clear from Acts 9, 22, 26; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13-14; Philippians 3:6; and 1 Tim 1:13, that Paul seriously wanted a relationship with God. So Jesus takes him to task, reconciles him to himself and to the church that he was previously persecuting. BUT not without a promise: that a reconciled relationship would mean suffering.
That even when it was good, it would hurt.
That even in the best of times, there would be pain.
That doing what he wanted meant destruction for others,
but aligning himself to the will of Christ meant destruction for himself.
I know people who keep others at arms length because they are afraid of being hurt. They are confusing isolation with anesthesia. Christ does not call us, his body, the church, to be numb — But, instead to feel every cut and scrape of relationship and community. Love, for Christ, felt like thorns and nails and spears. Why would it be different for us?
If it doesn’t hurt, then you’re not feeling it.
That’s why forgiveness and reconciliation are so important: only in that state do we experience the full and dynamic range of relationship. In this act, we look beyond ourselves and, say, care about something like human trafficking — there’s insufferable pain involved with that. And immeasurable blessing. There’s no getting around having to feel anything. Imagine what Ananais felt as he submitted to the request of the Lord. How do you think he felt about being the scab who crossed the line and shook hands with power? How might he have felt laying healing hands on a man who had laid his hands on his brothers and sisters with such great violence? Ananais did what Jesus asked him to do. He was obedient, and obedience in this case looked like forgiving the enemy and reconciling him to the family of Christ.
Pain is not a reason to protect ourselves from reconciliation; pain is a inherent promise. Reconciliation bears the image of God. When we participate in it we look like Jesus. Withholding it, however, looks like selfishness, a warped sin-rejoicing image of something that used to resemble something that once might have been something that could have at some point been mistaken for someone that used to look like Jesus.
In this Acts 9 story, Paul is reconciled to Christ (which cost him blindness), is reconciled to the church through Ananias (which by any account was horrifying for Ananais), and the church is reconciled to history (which is the glory of Christ for all creation).
Here’s a couple of resources for a great story of Reconciliation:
As We Forgive, Laura Waters Hinson (Rwanda)