Whoever enters Damascus from the eastern gate comes to the Straight Street. It is the ancient decuman (in ancient Rome—the main gate of a military camp, facing away from the enemy and near which the tenth cohort of the legion was usually stationed) that, from east to west, crosses the entire city. It has kept the name given by the Romans even to this day.
The author of the book of Acts recalls that the house where Paul was received, after receiving the revelation of Heaven, was along this road (Acts 9:11). He was not giving us trivial information but is communicating a message. The way: an image that is often used in the Bible to indicate a choice of lifestyle.
The God of Israel does not like compromises, so he proposed to his people an irreversible choice: “I set before you on this day life and good, evil and death. I command you to love the Lord, your God and follow his ways” (Dt 30:15). Arriving at a crossroads one has to choose: either a road or the other.
“Just are all his ways” (Dt 32:4), but how to discover them? They are far from our own “as the heavens are above the earth” (Is 55:9).
Eager to find them, the psalmist was pleading: “Lord, make known to me your ways” (Ps 25:4). Jesus also got back to this image: “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction. How narrow is the gate that leads to life” (Mt 7:13-14) and identified himself as “the way” (Jn 14:6).
Conscious of having met in Jesus the way of life, the early Christians loved to identify themselves as “those of the way.”
When he walked toward Damascus, Paul was determined “to arrest and bring to Jerusalem man or woman belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2). He was convinced of being on the right path, of walking the straight paths, those marked by the Torah and the sacred traditions of his people. Stubbornly anchored to his own religious convictions, he was not even touched by the doubt that some of his ideas and some of his choices were to be called into question.
He was full of zeal, generous, disposed of even to give his life for the cause in which he believed. However, like all fanatics, he was intolerant with those who thought differently. He did not pose questions; he nurtured only certainties.
Only a light from heaven could dissolve the dense darkness in which he was immersed. In Damascus, it led him to the street called Straight, where the community of the followers of the Way would welcome and change him from persecutor to Apostle of the Gentiles.
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“Lead me, Lord, in your ways, guide me to the right path.”