September 6, 2020

Salt & Light Online

A current connection to each week's session


Saul’s Call
Acts 9:1-20

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The stoning of Stephen looks a lot like a lynching. If lynching is a public killing by three or more people claiming extrajudicial reasons to kill, Stephen was lynched.

The writer of Acts highlights parallels between Stephen’s lynching and that of Jesus. The crowd listening to Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin “became enraged and ground their teeth” (Acts 7:54). They dragged Stephen out of the city to kill him. He knew he was dying and prayed that God would receive his spirit. He cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Stephen, like Jesus, died asking God to forgive his killers.

Saul was a spectator in that lynch mob. He witnessed and approved of the killing. In Acts 9:1, Saul is “still breathing threats and murder” against Christians.

The crucifixion of Jesus also looks a lot like a lynching. It was a public execution, meant to intimidate those who witnessed the act, to control a group of people, to “keep them in their place.” James Cone in The Cross and The Lynching Tree, invites us to see the crucifixion of Jesus as comparable to the lynchings of thousands of Black people in the American South, particularly in the mid-19th to 20th centuries.

We are seeing 21st-century killings of Black people in America that look a lot like lynchings. On February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man, was followed, confronted, and fatally shot while jogging in a neighborhood in Georgia. One of his three white pursuers recorded the killing. One of them asked a local attorney to provide a copy of the video of the shooting to a local radio station, which posted it to their website. No one was charged in Arbery’s killing until May.

When we see the current divisions among polarized groups today—the fear, the mistrust, the unequal power, the potential lethal force—it is very hard to imagine a scene of trust and reconciliation like the encounter between Saul and Ananias in Acts 9. Ananias names his fear of Saul to God: “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done” (Acts 9:13 NIV). Then with astonishing courage, Ananias enters the house where Saul blindly waits, places his hands on Saul, and says, “Brother Saul . . .” (Acts 9:17).

  • Could Saul, as someone of the more dangerous and powerful group, have taken the initiative in their encounter?
  • What do you think Saul was praying for?
  • What are you praying about in these troubled times?

—Gwen Groff, bethanym@vermontel.net

© 2020

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Gwen Groff is pastor of Bethany Mennonite Church in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont. She lives in Plymouth, Vermont, with her husband and intermittently with her adult children.

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