15 The Lord replied, “Go! This man is the agent I have chosen to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
17 Ananias went to the house. He placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord sent me—Jesus, who appeared to you on the way as you were coming here. He sent me so that you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. 19 After eating, he regained his strength.
He stayed with the disciples in Damascus for several days. 20 Right away, he began to preach about Jesus in the synagogues. “He is God’s Son,” he declared
Acts 9:15-20 NRSV
Movies have these cliches. Let me share some of them with you. If there is a dog in the movie, that dog will always bark at the bad guy. An action hero never ever wears prescription glasses. Bombs are usually defused only if there are less than five seconds remaining on the clock. People can drive moving cars while looking directly at the passenger. They also tend to move the steering wheel 100 times more than the average driver. In a chase scene, most women will fall down at some point. Whenever someone appears to be working on a computer, the screen is so bright it projects itself on the person’s face. Or at least, when they are accessing a computer that doesn’t belong to them, they can easily break the password by looking at the person’s desk or remember some obvious clue given in a previous scene. Also, if a bad guy wants redemption they must die for it. It has to be a sacrificial death, where it saves the good guys in the process.
Maybe this is why biblical movies are a tough sell, especially the New Testament stories. Could you imagine the pitch?
Okay, so we have this guy. It turns out he is the Son of God.
The Son of God, really? Does he come in and destroy the bad guy with lightening or hellfire or anything?
Oh, no. He’s a pacifist. He doesn’t hurt a single person the entire movie.
Right… well, go on.
Anyway, he starts to gain this following. People are willingly leaving their family over this guy.
Oh, so with his big following he overtakes the government, and puts a new system in place?
Umm, no. In fact, the government in rule when we comes in is still the same government when the story ends.
Then the followers…
No, the followers mostly die terrible deaths.
The bad guys…
Mostly get away in the end.
It’s not the story we want to hear. We want our happy endings. We want our “and they lived happily ever after.” If not, we at least want to know the bad guys were punished. That’s just not how life works, and that’s not how Jesus asked us to react to life.
There are two important pieces of Jesus Christ we must understand before we can get what’s going on in our scripture.
First, Jesus died. The resurrection is only as spectacular as the real death that came before it. As Christians, as a church, we are continually called to that death. When we try to emulate the resurrection without allowing our old selves to truly die, we end up with an undead church. Seriously. It’s the zombie church, and I’ve seen it over and over again. They can’t do what they used to do, but they refuse to let it go. This means they only appear alive, but they are really already gone. Until they let go, they can’t truly be reborn. They bite others, infecting congregants. I’ve spent the last few years helping the wounded. It’s dangerous stuff. Saul, the man who gathered up Christians to be murdered, died on that road. Not literally. His heart did not stop, but who he was ended in that moment. This was the future leader of the early church. Anything from that previous life, necessarily had to die.
Second, Jesus came to end the cycle of violence and hate. You know what’s interesting about the place where I’m at? I hear the problem from every angle, but no one wants to take blame. So much is broken right now. The General church is broken. The region is broken. Churches all over the nation are broken. Ministers are broken. Congregants are broken… But, blame always belongs to someone else. We all have our stories about the minister, the church, the congregant, the region, or the general suck that caused the problem. Do we realize we scapegoat the problem? We place the blame on something or someone who can’t do anything about it. We can’t change the people or the long gone system that hurt us. Sure, we can put our burden on them, and send them out as our sacrifice, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Do you realize Ananias could have scapegoated Saul? He could have taken one look at Saul and said, “Oh no, Lord. That guy is the reason we are in hiding. That guy is the reason several of my friends are now dead. I’m out.” Can you see the seriousness of it all? The future of the Christian story was put in Ananias’ hands, and Ananias had justification to let Saul rot in his blindness.
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?
The words of Jesus from Matthew 5:38-46. Do you see the potential that sits in our laps? Do you see the possibility of the future of the church? God is not asking us to heal a murderer. God is not asking us to redeem a villain. God is asking us to forgive our fellow brother or sister in Christ, and invite them back into the family, with no strings attached. What is being asked of us is not nearly as difficult as what God was asking of Ananias. Ananias did it. Ananias healed the murderous villain. In doing so the future of the Early Church took root. Can we do what God is asking of us? Can we give it up at the cross? Can we let go of the scapegoat, and personally sacrifice for the future?