A boy said, “There are people who belong to the devil.” He hastily added, “No one here, of course.” He then started giving examples. The director looked to me. I contradicted everything he and many of the other children and adults heard in their lives. “No one belongs to the devil,” I pronounced. Are not we all supposed to be a brother or sister or family to everyone else?
Pastor Don said it. And that settled it.
Of course, my pronouncement has no force. Some people in the room decided to quietly disagree. The other children who decided it was right because I said it would likely change their mind when some other authority said differently. The only real problem was whether I was really convinced of the force and validity my own words.
Ananias struggles with this very problem. He encounters Jesus in a vision who tells him to restore sight to Saul of Tarsus. Ananias has some good reason to fear going to this person. His reasons should justify letting Saul remain blind. In a law of righteousness and justice, Ananias is right. How can it be just that Saul is chosen for this blessing for healing? What about St. Stephen? What about the other victims of Saul’s persecution of the Way? One could say, “Stoning is too good for him.”
Jesus assures Ananias that Saul is chosen to suffer. (Acts 9:16) But Saul will suffer for other reasons than his past brutality. When Ananias visits Saul, he says to him, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me…”(9:17b) Saul is not a changed person. He believes he has done wrong. And surely, he knows his blindness was justified because, like Oedipus, he could not see. None of this new understanding makes him a brother to Ananias.
Saul of the Devil?
I often believe life is easier for everyone who sees the world as the children of darkness versus the children of light. By that I mean, everyone with who I agree with is a part of me, a child of the light. Everyone else is likely a child of darkness. This type of thinking is as prominent among progressive Christians as any other group. Did Saul ever belong to the devil?
Many people believe the majority of their actions and attitudes are good. Actions and attitudes of others that negatively affect them is therefore evil. That is not to say we mistake obvious evil in other people. But is it ever the case someone is so void of love that they are unredeemable?
Sometimes I wonder. I have never met anyone fitting that description. Some people have no use for humans but can find a soft spot in their hearts for animals. Neither is there anyone who is wholly undamaged by the evil they do. How can another person be seen as outside of our compassion?
Brother in Love
Living a life based on love is more difficult that seeing everything as either good or bad, right or wrong, innocent or punishable. It means overcoming our own desires to debase another person in our hearts. One problem of our modern mass media is we see certain people so often we get the feeling that we have intimate knowledge of them. I may feel a personal image staring out from a screen is somehow speaking to me individually. I can feel drawn into despising who they despise. But the people whose image is on the screen does not know me, can not identify with me, and is working to deceive me into believing they can. It is not too far from there to devoting my hate out of false love for the false image.
Ananias told the Lord Saul was not worthy. Saul was not. He knew it too. We often believe ourselves are worthy of grace. The truth is if we are worthy then it is not grace. The love we are called to practice is difficult. We grow into it. At some point in our growth we are able to recognize the sacred worth of ourselves and others that has always been there.
The other way is easier. But nothing gets better when we believe “the other belongs to the devil.”