Judas waited at the end of Straight Street, leaning against the gate to the city of Damascus, and watched Saul and his companions cross the long valley that ended at the entrance to the city.
A messenger had arrived a couple of days earlier, sent from the Chief Priest in Jerusalem to prepare the Jews in Damascus for Saul’s arrival.
Judas was chosen to meet Saul and the other travelers, and had been waiting for several hours, and it was hot. As a devout Jew, Judas wore the standard black hat and robes that were long enough to rest on the top of his sandals. Not the ideal garb to stand in the sun and stare into the distance.
To his relief, the description of Saul that he had been given exactly matched the man heading to the city.
The messenger had said “He will be with several others. Saul is a short man, balding, with dark, curly hair and small piercing eyes. His stature does not diminish his presence at all. He will most likely be the shortest in the group, but you will be able to tell that he is the leader. He always seems to command attention when anyone is near. Oh, and if there remains any question of which one he is, just look for the one that is always moving. He never stands still.”
Judas could tell that something was not right. There was definitely a traveler that matched Saul’s description, but he didn’t seem to be leading the group. In fact, it seemed like he was being led.
Several minutes later, Judas walked from the gate out to meet the group of men where they were, and then he realized what was wrong.
“Welcome to Damascus, my friends. I am Judas. I was sent to welcome you to the city. We received word of your journey here two days ago. I have been sent by the synagogue to escort you. Pardon my ignorance, but I did not know that Saul was a blind man.”
Jonas spun out his reply so fast that Judas had a hard time understanding him, “He isn’t, I mean he wasn’t. We were walking along, and he stopped and stared at the sun, and now he can’t see! He needs help. Are you with the synagogue? Yes, you said you were, what are we supposed to…?”
Jonathan stepped forward, holding a hand out to Jonas to stop his rambling speech, and spoke up, in a slower, more controlled tone, “Sir Judas, we left Jerusalem three days ago, and Saul was as healthy as the rest of us here. Several hours ago, Saul fell along the road, and it seems that he has lost his sight”, then with a slight shrug he added, “He claims that the Lord took it from him”
Saul spoke with the calm confidence that fit the description given to Judas by the messenger. “Judas, thank you for meeting us here. Pardon the impropriety of my companions. While the situation that we are placing you in seems strange, I can assure you of two things. We are meant to be here, God has made that very clear, and right now, we are all in need of rest after our journey”.
Judas answered, “I too am sure that everything will make itself right in time. Follow me, and I will show you where each of you will be staying during your tenure”.
Judas owned a small two story home in a row of connected houses directly on Straight Street.
Straight Street was just that. It was a wide, straight street that ran for several miles, dissecting the city right down the center. Lanes running in both directions were separated by a median that overflowed with colorful flowers and small groomed trees. Each side was spacious enough to support any type of commercial business along its edges. While owning a business directly on the busy street was a guarantee of success, owning a residence along Straight Street was an even greater sign of wealth. To have a home with a front door that opened to the street brought with it the expectation of a level of décor above any other place in the city. The homes here were all spacious, decorated with bright colors, and worthy of the attention that they attracted.
This is where Saul spent his first three days in Damascus. Sitting inside Judas’ house, on several blankets laid on the floor, sometimes kneeling, sometimes lying down, constantly murmuring.
He refused to eat, explaining that he would fast until God gave further direction.
Judas tried to offer the explanation to members of the synagogue that Saul’s trip had left him tired and weary. After the second day the constant requests to visit Saul became unbearable.
Damascus sponsored an atmosphere that attracted new ideas, and allowed those new ideas an environment to flourish uninhibited. The religions in most cities are regulated by one standard of belief that has been set forth the local governing rulers, but Damascus was different. Almost any line of thought was allowed freedom to grow. Of course, other than the Jewish synagogue, none had ever really grown beyond a general curiosity. None until now.
Originally started by some followers of John “The Baptist”, The Way was growing by offering a belief of freedom that did not require a lifetime of study or a list of rules to attend to; and it was open to everyone.
As the church grew, individuals naturally rose to take on responsibility, provide leadership, set standards, and organize support. Ananias was one of the men that was willing to do just that.
Attendance was increasing on a daily basis because people were finding in The Way what so many other religions had been lacking; openness, community, and fellowship. They supported each other and encouraged open worship. Money was donated by everyone in The Way to support the men, like Ananias, that had volunteered to minister to the new congregation; and that money had to be managed. In
But like everyone does, Ananias was having “one of those days”. People everywhere were reaching out for answers and assistance.
There was work to be completed on several houses in order to provide shelter for families that were homeless.
Food needed to be purchased from the market.
Money needed to be collected to purchase the food.
People wanted teachers, they were eager to learn.
In addition to all of that, this was the fourth day of clear skies and burning heat.
All of these things made it that more difficult for Ananias to focus on his daily tasks of caring for the church.
Spiritually, he was a very strong and reliable man of God. Physically he was tall and well built; he was willing and able to do anything for anyone. Emotionally, he could reach everyone that he talked to at the level where they were, and meet their needs them in a very unique way. Because of this, he was a very busy man. Sometimes, everybody needed everything at this very moment, and that moment was today.
Ananias arrived home in the afternoon just before dinner. He had walked in the door of his house and sat down for the first time since he had awakened that morning. Slowly, he let his eyes drift shut, and breathed out a slow, long sigh.
The stillness of the long day began to settle. “Ananias”, the voice called with a deep, resonating, smooth sound.
He let his eyes remain closed. I know that voice, but I must be dreaming. I saw him ascend into heaven.
Calmly Ananias answered, “Yes, I am here, Lord”.
“Get up and go to Straight Street, to Judas’ house, and ask for Saul of Tarsus: I have touched Saul. He is praying right now, and has seen you in a vision. He has seen you entering Judas’ house, and putting you hands on his eyes, so that he could see again.”
“But Lord”, Ananias replied, “I have heard a lot about this man, from a lot of people, about the evil that he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem: I know that he is here with the authority of the chief priest to bind all of us that have called on your name and take us back to Jerusalem with him.”
The Lord said, “Go: I have chosen Saul as vessel for my use, to carry my name to the Gentiles, and the rulers, as well as the children of Israel: I am going to show him the many great things that he will endure for me, to bring glory to my name.”
Ananias opened his eyes, groaned, and left.
“What is it now?” Judas yelled from where he sat.
After waiting a few moments for a reply, and there was none, he stood up and walked over to answer the knock on his door. I am sure that I have done this fifty times today. Every time it’s the same thing over and over; “Can we talk to Saul?”, “Is he here?”, “Why isn’t he coming out?”, and the best one of all, “What have you done with him?” Huh, why would they think that I had done something to Saul.
Judas grabbed the handle of the door and threw it open. Ananias jumped backward, caught by surprise. Judas glared out the doorway, staring at the stranger with the shocked look in his face. Obviously, Ananias had heard Judas yelling.
“Well, what is it?”
“Well, Judas, I would like to speak to Saul of Tarsus”.
Judas opened his mouth to reply, as he had the fifty other time that day, with some sort of answer like “when he is ready, he will come out, so be patient”, or “go back to your home, and we will let you know when it is time”.
But before those words could come out, Judas heard Saul’s voice from the other room, “Judas, please let this man enter.”
Judas stepped aside, waving his arm in a wide arc toward the inside of the house as if to say “be my guest”.
Ananias stepped inside, and waited for his eyes to adjust from the bright midday sun. Then after looking around and not finding anyone in the main room, he proceeded through the house to a small bedroom at the back of the house. Saul was on his knees, facing the general direction of the door.
Ananias moved toward Saul, and rested his hands on Saul’s eyes. “Saul, the Lord, Jesus, the same one that appeared to you on your journey here, has sent me, so that you could receive your sight, and be filled with His Holy Ghost”.
Ananias and Judas stood still, waiting for a change.
Saul slowly opened his eyes.
Small pricks of light began to poke through. Tiny points of light, like stars suddenly appearing in a dark sky. Each point grew in size and began to join with the other points, until he could see everything: the inside of Judas’s house; Ananias staring at him with an expectant look on his face; and Judas, standing completely still, wondering how he would explain this to the men at the synagogue.
He turned and faced Judas, and embraced him in a deep hug. Then pulling him away with a sudden urgency, holding him at arms length, Saul’s dark piercing eyes looked directly into Judas’ eyes and he said “Thank you Judas, for all of your care and concern. I could not have asked for a better host. We will see each other again soon. God has told me that I must go with Ananias, so I must go.”
He abruptly turned, and motioned for Ananias to lead the way out the front door of the house, and out into the street.
Saul paused in the middle of Straight Street, people and carts parting to walk around where he was standing.
Judas waited in the doorway, completely unsure of how to handle the circumstances
“Really, thank you Judas. I hope you understand that I have much to do and much to learn. Please tell my companions to return to Jerusalem without me. I will be staying in Damascus for some time”. And then Saul glanced at Ananias, nodded his head to indicate for Ananias to lead the way, and moved off without another glance back.