You ever had a vision from God? And no, I’m not talking about a “hey that cloud kinda looks like a Ford F150 filled with football players and illegal immigrants; I guess God really does want me to move to Texas” kind of vision. I’m talking about an in-your-face, life-altering, game-changing encounter with The Almighty. My guess is you haven’t. And if you have, it probably involved a sack of shrooms and a Phish concert. That doesn’t count.
But there was a dude in the Bible who had one of those haymaker-to-the-temple type of visions. His name was Saul and he lived around the time of Maximus. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they were friends or anything, but they probably could have been since they were into a lot of the same stuff like traveling, facial hair, and killing people. The only difference was Saul focused his killing on Christians while Maximus was more into barbarian hordes, tigers, and the occasional Roman emperor.
In the years after Jesus’ departure for heaven, Saul had pretty well established himself as the primary pain in the early church’s ass. For some reason he would get real pissy anytime anyone mentioned anything about Jesus being the son of God or dying for our sins or anything like that. All it took was for someone to say “Jesus loves you” and it’d be nothing but stonings, arrests, and rage blackouts for the rest of the day. Real buzzkill, that Saul.
After awhile the church in Jerusalem got tired of Saul ruining their Sunday morning services and they started meeting in secret which was a real shame since they had been meeting in this sweet theater over in Old Town, but now they had to get together in the assistant pastor’s apartment which was cramped and always smelled like sweaty eggs.
Since the Christians in Jerusalem were keeping things on the DL, Saul had to look elsewhere to satisfy his addiction to hassling people. He decided to go to Damascus because he had some buddies he could crash with and because there was a big Vacation Bible School in town that he wanted to heckle. He grabbed two of his homeboys, a buncha Doritos, and a couple donkeys, and they set off for D-Town.
They were about halfway there when things got trippy. A bright light fell from the sky and Saul heard someone say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Being new to the whole “vision from heaven” thing, Saul thought he was hearing the voice of one of the youth pastors he’d recently locked up for showing The Passion of the Christ at a high school lock-in.
Saul shielded his eyes and asked, “Bartholomew, is that you?” And the voice said, “No, it’s me, Jesus, the guy you’ve been bagging on all over town.”
Awkward, right? Here’s Saul, running his mouth all over Jerusalem, talking trash on Jesus to anyone who’ll listen, and then all the sudden Jesus shows up and calls him out on it. Saul’s two buddies didn’t make it any easier on him either. They just stood off to the side and said, “ohhhhh busted!” but Saul was too busy getting reamed to tell them to shut-up.
Eventually, the light faded and Jesus went away. But when he left, Saul’s sight left with him. In the immortal words of Manfred Man’s Earth Band, he had been “blinded by the light.” No word if he was also “revved up like a deuce in the middle of the night”.
Saul told his buddies that he was blind and that they had to help him get to Damascus. And they were like, “Whatever dude, let’s get out of here before someone else comes along to rip you a new one.” And Saul was like, “No. I’m serious. I can’t see a freaking thing.” So one of his bros threw a football at him. The ball hit him square in the face and they decided he probably wasn’t joking. They escorted him the rest of the way to D-Town, but you better believe they gave him tons of crap for ruining the roadtrip.
Meanwhile, Jesus had gone ahead to Damascus and appeared to this guy named Ananias. He said, “Ananaias, my man. Get over to this house on Straight Street and hit up this guy named Saul. I told him you’d be coming.”
Ananias heard this and he was like, “Heeeeeeck no! My sister told me about this dude. She’s a Sunday School teacher down in Jerusalem and Saul shaved her beard because of it. What’s to say he won’t do the same to me?”
But Jesus said, “Hey. Ananias. It’s me. It’s under control, alright? This dude is going to be my missionary to those sexual deviants across the pond and he needs to know about some heavy stuff he’s gotta deal with now that he and I are friends.”
So Ananias went and met up with Saul who had been praying for three days straight – partly because God had changed his heart and partly because there wasn’t a lot else for blind people to do in the days before talk radio.
Ananias put his hands on Saul and said, “Hey Saul. Jesus – that guy you bumped into on the way into town – sent me over here to fix your eyes and to fill you with the Holy Spirit. So be healed, be filled, and hey, take it easy on my sister would ya?”
Some contact lenses with expired prescriptions fell from Saul’s eyes and – wallah! – he could see again. He left the house, got himself baptized, ate fifteen falafels (he hadn’t had anything but Doritos since leaving Jerusalem), and changed his name to Paul because he knew he’d never get into missionary school with a name like Saul.