Reflections on the Apostle of the Body of Christ… 5/9/14
Saul is blinded. By his zeal for the Lord, for justice, for what is right, for his people, and faith, and the whole inheritance of Moses that he has been raised immersed in. And it consumes him, this mission for the truth, until he can no longer hear or see the One for Whom and in Whose name he is fighting, working, acting. Until, in the Name of serving the Lord, he has forgotten all but himself, and his project.
To reach this man running recklessly, blindly, in the name of the Lord, and thinking he sees, The Lord must still his zealous mission by physically knocking him to the ground, stopping him on the road, and rendering him helpless: this man of conviction and power and energy for the Truth. And to open his eyes, He strikes him blind: blinded by the very showing of His own glory.
And in this intense encounter, this dramatic moment, when the Lord literally breaks in and stops still the entire force of this man’s reckless running, what does He say to him?
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
The first correction, the first pronouncement of truth over this man’s error, the clarity to clear away the murkiness, the cloud of his blindness: “I and My Body are one: those whom you are seeking to destroy are ME, the LORD in whose name you are seeking to destroy them. It is the One you love, the One you are living for, that you are stoning, that you are scourging, that you are imprisoning… it is ME. And I am going to teach you now, slowly, and concretely, Who I am, through introducing you to my body…”
Saul must be led away like a child, seeing nothing, knowing nothing. Everything he thought he knew, all of his surety, his clarity, his vision of the Truth has been removed from him, and the one who thought he saw has come to grips with his blindness, in a very powerful, physical way.
Ananias is a disciple. A son of the Lord, and of Israel. He is available, present, surrendered. In the tradition of the prophets, he answers the voice of the Lord unflinching: “Here I am, Lord.” But the task that is given him is not what he expected: Go and lay your hands on the man from Tarsus named Saul. Saul, the leading Pharisee killing and persecuting the Church, the Body of the Lord. The enemy that has come with the authority to destroy them… and the Lord is sending him to heal him. Ananias is also blind: he cannot understand, cannot see the ways of the Lord. He can only see the obvious, external reality: that this man is the enemy of the church, and therefore, of the Lord, and His work! He is the enemy of the holy ones…
And the Lord also removes his blindness: “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel…” the one who has done the most harm to this Name is being transformed, is being called upon to defend it, to heal it, to build it up among all peoples, and “I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
It is not the suffering, Ananias, that is the enemy, it is not the persecution that is to be feared: it is the failure to be faithful to Him, the rejection of Him, of entering into communion with Him, within this suffering… and He is sending you to reclaim his son, Saul, to re-insert him into the suffering, for His name; that he not remain outside, but within Him, within this body that has been inserted into his suffering that saves.
And Ananias goes. The Lord, to teach Saul the lesson of communion, the truth of the meaning of his life, and of his Church, sends a son of that body to touch him, to lay his hands on him, to show him the mediation of His own healing power, through human instruments: to complete the lesson begun when he was thrown down, on the way.
And what does Ananias say? “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me…” “You, my enemy, are made my brother by the Lord, because He has sent me to you, to be the instrument of His healing power, and to give you the Holy Spirit. And I will receive you, in His Name… in the Name that you are now being baptized into, to suffer with.”
And suddenly, Saul, the zealous apostle, the fearless defender of the Truth, has become the follower, has become a child to be led, in humble obedience to the reality of the Man Who is so much more than he ever could have foreseen. “…and he stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus.”
The Lord’s ways are perfect. He knows exactly what He is doing. He alone knows the perfect way to enter into the particular, individual hearts of his children. He knew that Saul needed to be knocked to the ground, to be blinded, to be led, to be healed through the hands of one of those he was persecuting, to be given his salvation, by another… all in preparation for the particular mission entrusted to him, of bringing the Truth of Christ’s Body to the world, and therefore, to be himself, in turn, the instrument of reunion, of bringing back within that body, those who were farthest, who were least.
Only the Pharisee knocked from his mission, cast into a dependence on the community of the body of Christ, could go on to proclaim from his heart this mystery:
“For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another…”
Only because he first came to know it personally, could he speak of the Church, born from his own experience:
“…For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body… This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church…”
Only Paul, who had learned to follow, and to find Christ in this people, could have left us the testimony, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”