Summary: Charlie Brown, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus want us to ask, "How does the other team feel?"
You may recall that on Easter Sunday I made reference to Charles Schulz’s comic strip PEANUTS. The fact that I have to identify it as “Charles Schulz’s comic strip PEANUTS” just shows you how much things have changed. In the circles where I grew up, you could quote “PEANUTS” with no more introduction than you if you’d said, “SHAKESPEARE” or “THE BEATLES.”
Anyway, in one strip, Linus runs up to Charlie Brown and says, "Charlie Brown, I just saw the most unbelievable football game... What a comeback! The quarterback threw a perfect pass to the left end, who ran all the way for a touchdown! The fans went wild! Thousands of people ran onto the field laughing and screaming! They were so happy they were rolling on the ground and hugging each other! It was fantastic!”
And Charlie Brown – Good Ol’ Charlie Brown – says, “How did the other team feel?”
Since I saw you last, we’ve had the whole Don Imus thing, and the whole Duke lacrosse team fallout, both of which were quickly eclipsed by the Virginia Tech tragedy. And on a slower news week, we might have been paying more attention the April 19th, eight-year anniversary of the truck bomb that exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
And in all of these cases, I have to wonder, how much suffering and embarrassment and horror and general trouble might we all have been spared if SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME, SOMEHOW had just asked, “How did the other team feel?”
As we meet him in our reading from Acts, Saul has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and he does not want to lose that power to a bunch of people who really, as far as he is concerned, are not really people at all. These are the people of The Way, the early Christians.
But then Saul is blinded by an act of God, and in the process he hears the voice of God saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” To which he responds, “Who are you, Lord?” That might seem a little puzzling to some folks, but I’ll bet it’s not puzzling to a bunch of Good Southerners. When Southerners ask, “Who are you, child?,” we’re not asking for a name. We want to know, “Who is your family? Where do you come from? What is your pedigree?” In the end, for better or worse, what we’re really asking is, WHY SHOULD YOU MATTER TO ME? WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON? So I guess we can all imagine Saul’s anxiety and confusion and fear when he hears, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Saul soon meets Ananias, a faithful disciple of Jesus. Ananias has answered a call to go and find the praying Saul and give him back his sight.
But, as you might imagine, Ananias is pretty wary at this point. because he has heard about all the evil that Saul has done to the people of Jesus in the name of God.
And now ANANIAS has the power to do just about anything he wants to. No one would blame Ananias for failing to minister to a mean old Jew who had persecuted Christians. In fact, no one would have blamed him if he had turned the tables on Saul and punished him cruelly for all he had done. Think about all the angry, ignorant people who justify their hatred for the Jews by saying, “They killed Christ.” What do you think THEY’D do if they were in the position of Ananias?
But what does Ananias do? He lays his hands on Saul, persecutor of Christ and murderer of Christians, and calls him brother. It is only then that the scales fall from Saul’s eyes. And only then does he become baptized, eat and drink and become strengthened. And when he is able, he goes to the synagogues where they knew all about him and his persecution of the Christians, and he says, “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Paul became united with Ananias in the victory of the Risen Christ. In a single act of forgiveness through Christ, both the Victim and the Persecutor become VICTORS in the Risen Christ over sin and death. And in that victory, they were also united in their conviction that, from here on, they will never be far from asking, “How does the other team feel?”
Saul had to ask who the Risen Christ was when he was struck blind. We are told that Peter and the other disciples didn’t dare ask who Jesus was when they saw him. They knew him by his work. And after the disciples recognized Jesus, he promised that THEY TOO would be known by their work.
But first Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” And when Peter says yes, Jesus tells him to feed his lambs. Jesus keeps asking, “Do you love me?,” and Peter keeps saying, “Yes, of course Lord, I love you!”