»DAMASCUS ROAD EXPERIENCE
[Saul] went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way… he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ So [his companions] 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!…
Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul.’
(Acts 9:2-6, 8-11)
Drama on The Road
A young, bearded man, perhaps in his late twenties, is making his way to a foreign city. He is a man with an agenda – right now he is planning what to do once inside the city’s Gates. Some people there will regret the day he arrived, but that doesn’t matter. They should have thought of that before joining this new ‘messianic’ sect – this wretched so called ‘Way’!
This earnest Law student, plotting his strategy under his breath, is approaching the end of an arduous, 150-mile- (240-km-) long journey, which began in Jerusalem nearly a week ago. He set out with several companions. And ever since they’ve been riding their mules by day and camping under the stars at night. Some of them are soldiers, ready to help him take some prisoners, and he’s asked one of them to carry the all-important ‘extradition warrants’.
The day before yesterday they were beside Lake Galilee, travelling along the Via Maris through a tiny village called Capernaum . But now, after making their way over the bleak, volcanic hills of Gaulanitis, they are at last travelling downhill. The massif of Mount Hermon is now behind them away to their left, but there in front of them, less than 10 miles (15km) towards the North-east, set in a plain amid some low hills, is their destination – the capital of Israel’s ancient Syrian enemies, the trading city of Damascus.
The oasis city certainly looks attractive in the piercing head of the noon-day sun. He’s never been to this ‘pagan’ city of commerce before, but this pernicious teaching about Jesus of Nazareth must be ‘nipped in the bud’ before it spreads any further. In a strange sinister way he is rather looking forward to this assignment. Perhaps even by bedtime tonight he will have caught red-handed some followers of this dangerous ‘Way’. Success here will surely not go unnoticed by the bosses back home.
But what happens next is something totally unexpected and undesired, something that turns world upside down and inside out. He is encountered, so Luke asserts, by the risen Jesus. The very person whose followers he is going to arrest now appears to him and speaks directly to him by name. Almost speechless with fear, dreading the truth that this might indeed be that impostor Jesus, he falls to the ground before the one whose name he has hated, the object of his righteous anger and zeal.
We are witnessing here the ‘conversion’ of Saul, the Jew from Tarsus – known to later history and to us as the ‘apostle Paul’. (From this point on we shall refer to him by his Greek name, ‘Paul’.)