In the house on the street called Straight

This will explore the externals only. We will visit the internal journey next, but for now we merely look in on the house of Judas and record what we see.

First we note the man is blind. Later the account reads that something like scales fell from his eyes. It is clear that Paul does not see anything. This man of strength of muscle as well as strength of conviction. He is blind.

Second, he eats nothing. For three days. One gets the image that he is deeply engrossed in silence. The scene does not convey chit chat, nor even conversation. A man alone, deeply engrossed in his internal surroundings.

What does he have as the bases of meditation? That much we know. here was that light, that light shining down from heaven with the intensity that could only have originated from heaven.

Then the words he heard. He reviews over and over the words he heard from Jesus. “I am Jesus.”

What does that mean? What are the consequences of truth that flow out of that declaration? Something only vaguely grasped, something about God’s Messiah, about the resurrection of Jesus.

And, “Wait, you will be told what to do.” Something else is coming. This is not just a divine lesson in truth and reality. This revelation is connected to a mission. But what mission? Surely connected to the revelation of the light, of the Messiah, Jesus.

If we had been there to observe and report, we would not have had much else to see or hear.

But inside his head… We dare to go there as far as we can and to follow his thoughts, follow the threads already present, threads that will anticipate what is to come.

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Paused…

…for recovering energy after two weeks of fatigue from “maintenance” chemo. This is clearly a case where the disease–lymphoma–has not been nearly as bad as the treatment. But then, there is some very good news in that…

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Paul hears his Lord

Well we could wish that none of us hears those first words from Jesus Christ that Paul heard: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Then his question: “Who are you, Lord?” As if in the middle of a search and approaching the discovery but needing the final and full revelation.

The Lord’s reply: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

How awful. Oh for a different path of life that could have avoided hearing those words–those damning, those excoriating words that would burn in his soul from that day until his martyrdom. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

But then the next question of Paul allows us a glimpse of his honor and integrity. Even here within seconds of the revelation of Jesus to him he asks the question that everyone ever since this encounter must ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

At this point we must be careful. Yes, he has met the Lord, and yes, he has accepted that revelation of Jesus. After that, however, what Jesus tells Paul deliberately withholds any instruction other than, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

That’s all. Nothing about the nations, nothing about suffering for His name, nothing other than go into the city and wait.

There we turn next, to the home of Judas, to the three days before the arrival of Ananias.

Before turning to Paul in the home of Judas, blind and fasting, waiting, there is another scene. This one is dripping with irony, fascination, awe, and imagination’s richest efforts.

The scene is Paul, the hothead persecutor, the one whose arrival struck fear into Jew and Christian alike, the leading and raging man obsessed with ethnic cleansing of Christians–the long-awaited and long-feared arrival of  this man. The picture we have is not what was expected. Blinded, broken, humbled, cast down, stumbling, with his entourage in shambles, several of them handing Paul forward step by unsteady step to the house of Judas on the street called Straight. How the mighty are fallen, but how the Lord will use those whose weakness reminds them of His strength.

 

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Supporting cast––those off-stage

The two we just looked at––Ananias and Judas––get mentioned by name since they were part of the story. There were others as well, others who were not named and were part of the story, but we don’t know how.

I’m referring to the Christian Jews who knew Paul was coming “breathing threats”, and to the other Jews who made room for this hotheaded persecutor.

Both groups, I suspect, were wary of him. The believers knew their lives were threatened by him. Some may have cowered and hid, others might have boldly and publicly shown their faith. The Jews would have known that he was one of them, but this man needed a wide berth. No telling how he might have acted out his rage and hatred.

The narrative again leaves us with more questions than information. One wonders, for example, how the two groups got along. How isolated were the Christians, or how well accepted by the Jews. All were, after all, in a city where Jews–Christian or not–were in the minority.

Then if we move forward and look backwards to the groups, what was the impact of the events around Paul? He preached in the synagogue. Did any Jews get persuaded?

And the believers–how was Paul accepted by them? Did Ananias carry enough clout to persuade them that this new life was real? Was there hesitation in bringing all the members of a family to the worship gatherings for fear that this might be a ruse to gather more Christians?

The narrative is silent. The sole benefit for this exploration of questions is to turn them to ourselves and ask how we respond to mighty works of God, how we invite others in, how we discern the presence of God’s Spirit, how we draw near those believers of whom others are ashamed or embarrassed.

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Supporting Cast––Ananias and Judas

The tantalizing thing is––these people played significant roles in these critical days of Paul’s life; yet we know so little about them!

Take Ananias. God picked him to be His messenger. Ananias was the one who conveyed Christ’s commission to Paul and was the one who through laying on of hands restored Paul’s sight. That man would forever be associated with Paul’s encounter with the Lord.

But what do we know about this man? How much of a leader was he in the Damascene church? Was he bold and therefore selected to approach the former persecutor of the church, or was he simply a faithful man in the background but willing to do any bidding of the Lord? Whichever, his obedience echoes the Virgin Mary, who said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to your word.”

We can only conjecture what Ananias might have told his grandchildren years later.

Then there is Judas. “Go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight.” Again, a man intricately connected with this extraordinary time in Paul’s life, and again, a man who lies in shadows.

Why Judas? What singled out his place as the home where Paul would be led and where he would stay until he was “told what to do?” Was Judas one of the Christians in Damascus or one of the Jews with whom Paul had planned to stay? Or was his home simply a large hostel? Was Judas known to Paul beforehand? It is possible he was a relative; after all the man who warned Paul of the plot to kill him was a nephew. And just what was Judas told by the companions of Paul when they settled him there?

Oh to know these answers! What a time that was. So much played out for all eternity. But what we do know is what is essential for the eternal truths.

 

 

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Paul’s companions, supporting actors

With this posting I will begin a step-by-step tracking of the events of this day on the road through the departure to Arabia. The details in the New Testament are sparce. Perhaps this is so thus restricting the conjecture of Paul’s interior life during this time. I will respect that, only stretching out the facts that are there, posing probability of what was omitted, and highlighting the gaps and the questions they leave.

Who were these companions? We know they were there if only because Luke writes, “The men who journeyed with him…” and “They led him by the hand…” (Acts 9:7,8)

A safe assumption is that they were sympathetic to Paul’s purposes. They, too, eagerly wanted to get the Damascus Christians and get them back to punishment in Jerusalem. Most likely they saw Paul as their leader and would defer to his plans.

But what they saw they never expected. Not in a lifetime of guessing.

They saw the light, they heard the voice, and they saw no one. They also saw Paul fallen to the ground, speaking to the voice, trembling and astonished. Possibly the only thing that stood out to them was the instruction, “Go into the city and you will be told what to do.” Those orders for Paul brought them into the present since they could tell that Paul was now blind.

They led Paul by the hand and found the home of Judas on the street called Straight.

And there they disappear from the story. Wouldn’t we like to know more! I certainly would. Like: How did they know where the house of Judas was on Straight? Did they hang around and come back for the visit of Ananias? Did they believe also? Baptized? Later did they become followers of Paul in his journeys? Or did they despise and reject the sudden turn of Paul to the Lord whom they heard? If so, what was their report to the leaders in Jerusalem?

A supporting cast about whom we know nothing, but conjecture about them could take an imaginative mind to intriguing avenues.

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Damascus. Why Damascus?

Two answers. The first takes us to its place in geopolitics going back to Abraham. The second picks up with the influence of the Hellenized Jewish believers

About its history Josephus, the Jewish historian just after the time of Christ, cites an earlier source that Abraham reigned over Damascus. Whether or not that is true, historians do show that the city was one of the oldest–if not the oldest–continuously inhabited city in the world.

Lying on the fault line between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires, it eventually went under the Greek influence of the Seleucids. The Jewish population probably numbered over 50,000. The Christian community had its roots in Galilee, and living in Damascus brought them under Hellenic influence.

That brings up the second answer. Paul did not seek out authority to persecute the followers of Christ in Jerusalem. No, he wanted the Hellenized Christians, those who shared Stephen’s view on the law and the wider cast of God’s grace to include Gentiles. They were the ones who could undermine and bruise the Jewish nationalism Paul so stoutly defended.

So he went, armed with a letter from the high priest authorizing him to bound and return followers of Jesus to Jerusalem. This authority was founded on the right of Judea as sovereign state granted by Rome under the Hasmoneans and reiterated by Julius Caesar in 47 BC. On the road there he encountered a higher authority, one which brought a new perspective on grace and with that, a new set of orders.

 

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