The Long Road to Damascus

(link to scripture references: Acts 9, Acts 22, the Gospel of John)

I’ve seen comments around WordPress that talk about the fact that the New Testament shows many ways of winning people to Christ.  Sometimes Jesus showed compassion before calling people to repentance, this mode of thought states, and other times he threw them down off their horses.

It’s an interesting way of seeing things, to say the least.  I myself have always stated that Jesus showed compassion equally, with the exception of the Priests and Pharisees.  Jesus showed no tolerance for hypocrisy, and God never seemed to like hypocrites or the “lukewarm” very much.  For all of those who struggled, on the other hand, there never seemed to be a lack of compassion.

Throughout the Gospels one sees Jesus showing such an amazing amount of compassion.  His first miracle was one which may otherwise seem odd.  When he changed the water into wine (John 2) he did so not to encourage drunkeness, but to save the host and hostess a great deal of embarrassment.  To have insufficient refreshments for your guests was, in that time, something very shameful.  He showed compassion to the woman at the Well by speaking to her, and by not judging her for her sins.  For a jewish man in those times to be alone with a woman who was not his wife was questionable- a Samaritan woman moreso, a Samaritan who took many lovers and lived with a man to whom she was not wed- that was unconscionable!  Simply speaking with her was an act of grace.  Choosing her to be the one to redeem her people- that was God, plain and simple.

The next miracle?  The man by the Pool of Bethesba.  Jesus showed him compassion by healing him, since he had no family to aid him in his time of need.  This is an odd one, because Jesus actually commands him to do what the Pharisees termed as sin, by picking up his mat and walking.  Had the man refused and chosen legalism, he would have lost God.  Yet- Jesus also commands him to stop sinning.  That man must have had to have spent a great deal meditating on what seemed like Jesus’ mixed messages.

And another- feeding the five thousand.  What else could you call that but compassion for the many who were hungry for the word and also had growling stomachs?

The woman caught in adultery- what could be more compassionate than sparing a woman who would have otherwise died?  Again, we see love and grace before we see a command.

With the Man born Blind we see that Jesus, like with the man at Bethesda, requires obedience before healing.  Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash, after which he is healed.  But in that request for obedience we still see compassion.  Later in that passage, when Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, he says, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”  This is tremendous compassion for the man born blind, who was kicked out of the temple because he had been “steeped in sin from birth.”

Next we find the story of Lazarus.  What could show Jesus’ love more than the fact that he cried for the anguish of his friends, that he reassured them, that he did not respond to their doubts with anger, that he raised their brother and friend from the dead?

Then in a short while, we come to the ride back to Jerusalem.  We see Jesus riding a donkey through the gate that the Romans would ride their war horses through, both symbolic of Jesus’ servanthood and simplicity, and also a harsh call to attention for the zealots who would have expected Jesus’ “kinghood” to be a literal one.  (Not to mention that it must have felt to the Romans as if they were being openly mocked.)  Then Jesus washes his disciples feet, again making himself a servant, again showing compassion.  He feeds his friends.

And then he dies.

But his work here is not done.  He returns to the disciples and again teaches them on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24).  And finally, after all this time, we find ourselves on the road to Damascus with Paul, who was then Saul.  And who was Saul?  Saul was a Roman Jew who gladly imprisoned Christians, who witnessed their stonings, and was on the road to Damascus with arrest warrants in hands in order to drag back more Christians to their death.  Saul was no mere sinner- Saul was the enemy of Christians and thus in some ways the enemy of Christ.

On the Road to Damascus he witnessed a bright light and heard Jesus asking him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Saul was struck blind.  In Damascus Christ appeared to another man, Ananais, and told Ananais that Paul was Christ’s chosen to preach to the Gentiles.  Who better to minister to the Gentiles than someone with a reputation for killing Jews, right?  (Am I being sarcastic or not…  you decide!)  Ananais healed Saul, and Saul then became the Christian known as Paul.

Here is my question to all of you:  Does this story sound like Jesus coming and throwing someone off their high horse?  Does it sound like permission for condemnation?  Or does even this story reek of God’s compassion, grace, and love for even the most lost?  God took an enemy of the faith and made him one of the Way’s most infamous Apostles.  Only God could do such a thing.  That God must do such a thing by making the man blind and weak and dependent on the graciousness of one of the men he had come to Damascus to arrest has a sort of poetic or prophetic sweetness to it- but it doesn’t seem like God made Paul weak in order to torment him- he did so in order to bless him.

And only God himself has such power.

So to go back to my original point- with what should we win people over?  Do we knock them off their horses?  No, we show them compassion.  Leave the fancy stuff to God.


7 thoughts on “The Long Road to Damascus

  1. Jesus’ first miracle may be more about “honoring thy father and mother.” Maybe.

    Lindsay: I must have to out right disagree with you on Lazarus. If you look at that closely, Jesus had the oppertunity to go to Lazerus earlier but He delayed Himself. So much so that when He got there everyone said “he (Lazarus) stinketh” Now Lazarus’ body had begun to literally rot! Everyone could not help but know that. But Jesus said, “he sleepith.” Imaagine what people thought when Lazarus came walking out of that tomb. So, I believe the story of Lazarus was all about showing the power of the Savior. Okay and as a small by product some compassion.

    Your points are well taken. However, you omit the story where Jesus tells the Disciples that if the people will not receive them then too not even stay there. “Shake the dust from your sandles.”

    Another thing I find interesting is when (some) people say judge not. That is only part of it. The rest of it is when we judge other people, we (personally) will be judged by the same measure. Think about that for just a minute. It doesn’t matter what a person (out side of the church) is doing that we believe is improper. I think if we do anything but love them and pray for them…. be careful, be very careful.

  2. I think we witness through our lives. If people know you are of the Way they will observe your life. It’s about compassion but also about justice. We need to live our lives as much as possible in showing love but we also need to hold onto the truth. In a post modern era the biggest single issue for people can be an absolute truth which is hard to avoid in Christianity.

    It’s easier to explain those truths with a life full of compassion and grace to those around us though. Love rather than condemnation. God loves. God judges. We love and thank God that we are saved from judgement

  3. Another interesting post and one I will have to read again. I really like the way you closed this post. “So to go back to my original point- with what should we win people over? Do we knock them off their horses? No, we show them compassion. Leave the fancy stuff to God.” Amen

  4. I certainly agree. Oftentimes, people (including ourselves) need to be knocked off those horses, but that’s up to God, not us. We’re called to be Ananias, not God!

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