I have really appreciated “Fixing Her Eyes”, and Jen’s call for us all –sisters and brothers– to fix, focus, and look upon Jesus Christ as we serve together for God’s glory.
There are many nuances to “fixing” our eyes. What are we fixing our eyes on, and who is doing the fixing?
In this article, I consider some of what Paul saw, and the change, or fix, brought about in his vision by the power of Jesus Christ, as Saul became Paul: apostle, leader, and colleague of women.
The stoning of Stephen
Luke’s account of the first martyrdom of Christianity tells us that “…Saul was there, giving full assent to the stoning of Stephen.” He was guarding the coats, yes, and far enough away to avoid the splatters of blood as heavy rocks smashed in Stephen’s skull, and ruptured his intestines. This violent image was one that would have stayed in, and played upon Saul’s mind.
But Saul would have heard the speech Stephen had given. He was right there with his teachers, for he was an up-and-coming Pharisee. Saul was full of zeal to uphold the ancient traditions, and intent on guarding the letter of the Old Testament Law. He wanted to crush this new “Jesus” religion.
Saul heard Stephen describe his heavenly vision and the final cries as Stephen lifted up his eyes and saw Jesus standing in majesty at the throne of God. This truly would have been a vision that Paul never forgot.
Saul was on the road to Damascus with letters from the Jewish leaders authorising him to dispatch any followers of the Way, men and women, just as Stephen had been “done away” with. Paul gives slightly different versions of his experience that day (Acts 9, 22, and 26; in two of these, he saw Jesus and was rendered blind).
We don’t know the words that were spoken that day, but the immediate result was that Saul could no longer see. This actual blindness symbolises his spiritual blindness. Before seeing Jesus, Saul imagined that the was looking the right way. Saul really saw Jesus that day, and fixed his eyes upon Him, so becoming blind by the glory that no human could truly understand.
For three days, Saul was unable to physically see. He was in the dark, and now unsure of why he had come to Damascus. When the wrong way that Saul had been following was exposed as dark and evil, Saul was challenged by weakness and dependence. Can we detect some symbolism here, of Jonah’s time to reflect on God’s power and desire for obedience three days in the belly of the great fish? Jesus himself was in the tomb three days and nights, as He surrendered to the will of God and then rose to new life.
Concentrating on the idea of being in the dark, we see that Saul had time to reflect on both Stephen’s speech, and Jesus’ words to him. What if, during this time, Saul ‘connected the dots’ of what Stephen had said, beginning with Abraham and concluding that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was the Messiah, God’s own Son and the Saviour for the world?
After being taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ more fully, Paul (as he became known) returned to Jesus’ followers to share with them the vision for reaching the Gentiles. Paul saw, as he heard from the believers, that Jesus’ final command was to teach and baptise from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the earth, so that all nations would know God’s salvation.
With his own eyes, Paul saw the Church expanding and growing as he preached the message of Jesus. Various New Testament accounts tell us how Gentile women and men, transformed by the glorious Gospel, began to minister and grow the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul spent time with groups of believers that were already meeting in towns around the Mediterranean as well as establishing new groups through his teaching and baptising of individuals and households. Paul grasped Jesus vision of gathered Christ-centred communities that was bigger than any one geographic place.
Much of Acts and Paul’s letters reflects the apostle’s desire for Christ-like communities who would not only work together in unity and holiness but be salt and light for the peoples around about them. All that Paul desired to see was the glory of God in and through the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us how much of a Pharisee and “Jew of Jews” he was before he fixed his eyes on Jesus. This included regulating and restricting the involvement of women in religious activities. Now, with the eyes of Christ, Paul could see that everyone—the whole body of Christ—is vitally important for completing the commands that Jesus entrusted, including women.
Paul preaches to women like Lydia (Acts 16:13–15), takes their words and reporting seriously, like Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) and utilises Phoebe as his delegate for receiving, carrying, and explaining his letter to the church in Rome (Rom. 16:1–2). Paul works alongside, is helped and encouraged by, and contends for the Gospel with Prisca, Junia, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Rom. 16:3, 7, 12, 15), and many others.
It is only by God’s transforming grace and the Spirit’s power that Paul can stand beside these women that he now sees with new eyes. Paul is no longer blinded by Jewish tradition, but is found respecting, empowering, encouraging and boldly role-modelling the regard of Jesus Christ for his sisters, and brothers.
What can we learn from Paul’s experience?
I suggest three things:
Any sort of blindness, or wrong seeing, comes from human attempts to organise, manage and control. Traditional systems -- cultural and religious -- subordinated women, and Paul’s encounter with Jesus led him to freedom from control of others.
Secondly, it is a spiritual issue. Only Jesus can take away blindness and bring a ‘fix’ or remedy to one’s sight. Only Jesus can bring an end to divisions, and an end to desire for domination of others.
Thirdly, we must cooperate with God as He desires to challenge and change us for His glory. It is only through surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit that selfish humanity may be transformed.
Will we let Jesus “fix” our eyes? Paul’s eyes were fixed so that he saw in new ways. God’s love results in an end to putting each other down. No more denigrating gifted people, or questioning the ministry of called individuals.
True vision — eyes fixed on, and fixed by, Jesus — will make us realise our equality in God’s sight, and our inability to do without any part of the Body of Christ, the Church.
Grateful thanks to Jean Thompson highlighting how Paul’s physical state after meeting Jesus reflected his spiritual blindness, and for her generosity in reviewing my work before submission. Any errors remain my own.
Jo Vandersee has cross-cultural ministry experience in Australia and overseas, and is a committed parishioner at a growing Anglican church in Brisbane. A domestic goddess, traveller, singleton (no cats!), and a reader with more books than she can ever hope to get to - she loves learning from God’s Word, feels fulfilled in her calling when teaching or preaching; and is studying Master of Theology.
Image: Caravaggio's 'Conversion of St Paul'