Saul leaned forward and asked, “Is someone there?”
“My name is Ananias, an elder here in Damascus.”
“I know that voice,” Saul recalled.
“I’m sure you do. You see, I was sitting in my house, and…well…the Lord appeared to me in a vision.”
“A vision? Did you actually see him?”
“I’m sure of it. Anyway, he told me to come here, to this house on Straight Street and ask for you. He told me to lay my hands on you. I really didn’t want to. Frankly, you’re the last person I wanted to be in the same room with. But the Lord said to go, and I said yes, and here I am.”
Saul didn’t understand fully what Ananias was saying.
“The Lord sent me here, Saul, so you might see again and be filled with his Spirit.”
“That would be wonderful,” Saul said, and then he felt a pair of rough, shaking hands on his face and heard his friend say a prayer. And instantly, something like scales fell from his eyes. “I can see you! I can really see you!” Saul cried.
Ananias was also weeping, his eyes flushed with happiness, amazed at what had happened. He tried to talk, but stammered. Judas came running up the stairs and leaned against the door, also speechless. For the longest time all three men stared at each other. Then they went downstairs and out into a fragrant garden, where they sat on a bench surrounding a fountain.
Saul hadn’t eaten anything for three days, so he eagerly consumed a piece of rye bread and sipped a cup of red wine. Then he turned to Ananias and said, “I want to be baptized. Take me to the Abana.”
When they reached the Abana River, flowing outside the city’s northern wall, they took off their tunics and waded into the water.
Ananias put his arm around Saul’s waist. “I baptize you in the name of the Christ.”
As Saul came up out of the water, the sparkling river water swirled around him under a sun-splashed canopy. All creation sang in unison with joyful praise. His vision was acute, his mind at peace. He sensed the Spirit and a new mission.
“Welcome!” Ananias hugged Saul as a father receives a new-born son into the family. “Come and meet the Nazarenes.”
When they returned to Judas’ house, a few of the Nazarenes welcome them with the kiss of peace. Overwhelmed by their friendship, Saul didn’t know what to say. Some of them had been flogged on his orders before fleeing Jerusalem.
The next Sabbath, Saul walked into the largest synagogue in Damascus. Judas was there with the elders, but none of them knew about Saul’s conversion. Saul entered the elaborate chamber wearing a white robe with blue fringe and a leather phylactery.
“Saul,” said Judas, smiling and taking his hand. “You look much better this morning. You seem fully recovered.”
Saul went to the front of the room, and the others joined him on the dais, including Judas and Ananias. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” they all began and then prayed. The hazzan brought out the rolls of the Law and Prophets and opened them with care and then invited Saul to speak.
“I want to tell you about my journey to Damascus,” Saul began and then paused.
The congregation settled down for a good story, but they seemed unsure how this journey related to the Scriptures just read. It wasn’t long, however, before everyone realized Saul was giving more than a simple sermon. The worshipers shifted in their seats and glanced at each other as he told them Jesus had spoken personally to him. Judas and the others stared in disbelief.
“Jesus from Nazareth is the Son of God,” Saul declared.
“What…what did he say?” asked an elder sitting near Judas. He pointed his long finger at Saul. “Isn’t he the man who stirred up things in Jerusalem, going after followers of the Nazarene?”
“Hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” asked another elder.
Angry worshipers attacked Saul with a cacophony of odious words:
“You are a turncoat!”
“You have betrayed the Law!”
The chamber was in chaos as Saul rushed out the door.
A day later, Ananias was informed by Saul that he must leave Damascus. Ananias didn’t want to hear it. “Saul, your influence is growing.”
Saul pushed away from the table and went to the window. “But so is opposition from the Pharisees.”
Ananias stood next to Saul. “After they received your letters as the Sanhedrin’s official agent, you were brave to speak up in the synagogues.”
“What should I do?”
“Only you and God know the answer.”
That night Saul slipped into the wilderness east of Damascus and found the road that linked Palestine and Arabia. He went as far as Bostra before resting and turning south. After a week he came to a deep gorge that cut through the mountains of Edom, not far from where Moses had passed on his way to the Promised Land.
This was the gateway to the home of Nabatean marauders, who raided caravans loaded with gold and of kings who extorted protection money from merchants. A trail wound through a narrow canyon of ragged walls rising three hundred feet until it reached Petra, the ancient city of rock-carved temples and tombs. Coming closer Saul saw the Treasury, an enormous tomb of a former king. Above it was the Great High Palace, where priests held feasts and worshiped the sun god Dusares. But Saul’s timing was bad: the Nabateans still hated Jews.
After sometime Saul’s presence became known, and officials put out the word to arrest the Jew. Saul fled into the empty desert, praying to the Lord: What is your will for my life? Do you want me in Jerusalem? Do I return to Damascus? He sought answers to many questions while roaming the land in silence and resting in caves in solitude. He sat, wrestling with the Scriptures. He walked, listening to the risen Christ.
Saul wanted to be somebody and was zealous to please men of position to advance himself. But now he wanted to be a servant. He was content to exist in obscurity for a season to find himself.
Saul’s life was hidden from men for a thousand days in the desert before his soul was set free by God. Rising with the coming of a new dawn, he took the caravan road north and traveled to a barren plateau with Mount Hermon visible to the west. Another day brought him back to Damascus, but he remained in hiding until the sun had set before slipping back into the city.
“Saul!” said Ananias, opening the door and hugging him. They hadn’t seen each other for three years. “Come in. Yes, everyone is here. What a surprise!”
Inside the room was a low table with cushions on the floor. Around it were several men whom Saul recognized. He embraced his friends, who were no longer skeptical about his encounter with the living Messiah.