Pastor viewpoint: How can we bridge the divide?
One of my favorite Bible stories is the conversion of the Apostle Paul in Acts 9. In this story Paul still goes by the name Saul, and Saul is on his way to the town of Damascus to round up any and all supporters of Jesus and throw them in jail. Saul is a persecutor of Christians and he is traveling to Damascus to hunt down every single Christian in town. But on his way, Saul is struck blind and hears the voice of Jesus Christ, asking him why he is persecuting his people. Still blinded, Saul is led to Damascus and stays there for days, completely dependent on help from others.
Meanwhile, a Christian man who lives in Damascus named Ananias also has a vision of Jesus. Jesus asks Ananias to go to Saul and minister to him, help him and show him love and kindness. Ananias does so and Saul converts to Christianity, becomes Paul and lives out the rest of his life as the greatest evangelist of all time.
I've been thinking a lot about Ananias lately. What must it have been like for Ananias to have received the command from Jesus to minister to Saul? Saul, the biggest enemy of the Christian church? It must have been like a rabbi being asked to visit Hitler! What was going through Ananias' mind? How did he trust Jesus enough to respond to this call? How hard must it have been for him to reach out to his enemy?
We all know that both our country and our community are increasingly divided. There are so many issues that separate us and cause us to act as enemies to each other. Political parties, immigration, abortion, gun control, sexual orientation and so much more. There are so many ways to disagree with each other, so many ways to see the other as wrong, so many ways to cast others as our enemy.
Last month, I overheard two young people in our community debating gun control. They had differing views but one of the teenagers said to the other, "I don't believe I know of anyone who wants more school shootings. We all want to stop gun violence and school shootings. We just have different ideas of the best way to do that." I was humbled by the young man's ability to find common ground, empathy and care for someone who disagreed with him on such a divisive issue. Instead of searching for what differentiated them, the two searched for what united them.
I wonder how we can emulate this young man and act as Ananiases to each other. How can we bridge the divide? How can we reach out to those we disagree with? How can we minister to those who are cast as our enemy? Ananias went to Saul, expecting an enemy but God had a trick up his sleeve and instead Ananias encountered a friend. When we reach out in faith and love may our enemies become friends as well.