Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
It's such a visceral image: "Saul, still breathing threats..." You can imagine the heat of his breath as he spits his hatred for those first followers of the Way. Saul was a zealous man who was convinced that he was right and the Christians were wrong. So convinced was he that he was content to seek them out, have them imprisoned and even killed. Who was to be his next target? Thankfully, we will never know because on the way, he had the most spectacular and terrifying vision of Jesus who silenced his heated words and left him without sight for a time. What must it have been like to see Saul after his encounter with Christ? Suddenly, this man who was passionate for his religion, convinced of his standpoint and determined to eliminate the opposition was suddenly silenced. The people of Damascus must have been terrified when they saw him arrive but it can't have been very long before their terror gave way to confusion as the man who breathed threats and murder couldn't utter a word or see anything beyond the end of his nose.
Such was the significance of Saul's conversion experience that he went on to change his name to Paul and become one of the most significant disciples of the Lord, travelling around the Middle East and preaching the Good News to both Jew and Gentile. But the only way that Paul was ever going to change his perspective and cool the heat of the threats he breathed was to be silenced and blinded. He needed to have these two important senses taken away for a short time so that, when they were restored, he could see and speak differently.
Part of the joy of the approaching Christmas season is spending time with those whom we love. Perhaps that's why at this time of year, regret can often bubble to the surface about relationships that have gone wrong over the years because of heated words, or worse, threats breathed. On the one hand, we long for those relationships to be restored, but on the other hand, we cannot bring ourselves to silence our hot tempers or review our entrenched perspectives.
Where have heated words been exchanged or threats breathed in your own life?
Stop. And. Breathe.
"Blind words you call / blind words will fall" sing Jars of Clay in their song Blind. Allow Jesus to silence you for a moment; allow the blind words to crumble to the ground as Saul did in the presence of the Lord. If there is a relationship that has foundered because of blind words or threats breathed, ask God to give you a new perspective. Perhaps venture a different conversation, of words which are balm to the wounds of past exchanges.
Dear Lord, there's a relationship I long to see restored, but it feels like too many heated words have been breathed to find a way back. Meet me on this road to nowhere; silence the noise and correct my vision; lead me into my own Damascus and when I meet the ones whom I love, help me to breathe the promise of a different future. Amen.