Last post on Acts. I wasn’t going to write anything, but there are a couple of kind of funny vignettes in the last couple chapters and one thing that made me think.
One of my friends made the charge that Paul is basically a…well, I won’t use the word he used, but a not-nice person. And he has a point. Like this:
In Acts 27, Paul is on a star-crossed journey to Rome across the Mediterranean. When you read it, if you think of the thousands of refugees fleeing to Italy from the North African coast these last few years, you can see just how treacherous a journey that has always been. The ship Paul is on is so beset by troubles that by 27:20 “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”
And Paul’s response, eventually, is, don’t worry, an angel visited me and told me you were all going to make it. Eventually.
First, “After everyone had gone a long time without food, Paul stood before them and said, ‘You should have listened to me and not have sailed from Crete; then we would have avoided all this damage and loss.’”
Paul got beat up a lot in the second half of Acts, but ironically not here I wouldn’t have blamed his fellow travelers if they had.
In Acts 28, they crash in Crete, and as Paul is helping build a bonfire, a snake crawls out of the logs he’s carrying and latches onto his hand. The locals all say “he must be a murderer that the gods are out to get,” and they just stare at him, waiting for him to keel over. But he shakes the snake off into the fire and goes on about his business, so the locals decide he must be a god. There’s a scene from “Clue” in which they suspect someone drank poison and they sit and stare at her, until she is clearly unnerved. That’s the image I get, reading this scene.
But the part that grabbed me was in Acts 26, when Paul is telling his conversion story. This is the third time the story is told in Acts – once by the narrator, then twice by Paul. But this time, amidst the story of being blinded by a bright light and hearing a voice that identifies itself as that of Jesus, he adds that Jesus’ voice says to the blinded Saul, “You are to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.”
The idea of a blinded man being told he will open someone else’s (metaphorical) eyes, is rich with meaning. But beyond that, I’m just struck that this detail only comes out on the third telling of the story.
Is it an addition? Maybe. But in some ways, I think we experience our lives first hand, but we maybe only understand them in subsequent retellings. There are a lot of parts of my life that I definitely experienced, but didn’t understand until much later, usually in trying to tell my story to someone else. And while my memory for life events is more stunted and warped than most (you can ask me about that later, or ask Betsy or April), I know that the story I tell about who I am has changed as I’ve grown into it, and the events that happened a long time ago may grow in meaning (and shift in detail a little) as I understand better the role they play in who I am.
I’m thinking that’s what goes on here late in Acts for Paul. And maybe it’s worth reflecting a little about how, in the midst of all that is happening to all of us right now that we’re feeling so strongly and directly, we might take a little comfort in knowing that in years to come, as we “tell the story of tonight,” the details will shift a little to fit the shape of who these events will have helped us become. I’m hoping those future versions of ourselves are worthy of the moments we live today.
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