I can only imagine what it was like for him:
A reformed murderer. In his mind, he had to remember when he had used his power, prestige and influence to keep people away from Jesus. Did he see that his motivations then, as always, were these mixed bags of selfishness and altruism, purity and corruption?
Paul had been snapped out of his symbolic blindness by literal blindness. When Jesus’ spirit confronted him, he lost, for a while, the ability to see. Some time later, he finds himself utterly changed, and facing someone who had a lot in common with the man he had once been.
In Acts, Chapter 13, Paul confronts Elymas. And in this man who sought to keep the truth from Roman official Sergius Paulus, the apostle must have seen himself. After all, Paul too was politically positioned, he had opposed the gospel, even murderer those who proclaimed it.
The biblical account even hints at this past. Verse 9 identifies him as “Saul, who is also called Paul.” I searched several translations. Interestingly, none of them emphasize the idea that he used to be called Saul. In the present tense: he is both Saul and Paul. To me, this suggests that Paul, despite his transformation was not better in any sense than Elymas. By extension, none of us are better than Saul/Paul or Elymas, either. But perhaps this is a digression.
The important thing is the writing of the gospel is constructed to remind us that the man who was then-called Paul had once been called Saul. And when he had? He was a man much like Elymas.
And though we pay so much attention to all the blindnesses that Jesus had cured, it is important to remember that God sometimes causes us to be blind. He did it with Saul. And for Saul this blindness changed everything.
The bible tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon Paul. And after this, Paul pronounces that Elymas will be blind. Probably our feeble and small little human ant brains can’t fully grasp all the things that it means, for the Holy Spirit to come upon us.
Many of us believe that the Holy Spirit came upon the people that wrote the books that would eventually be collected together and called the bible. One of the things we assert, for lots of good reasons, is that the Holy Spirit brings with it a sort-of perfection. And at the same time, leaves the writers who they are. This is why we can say, for example, that the book of Mark is simultaneously perfect and yet also thoroughly the product of the person who wrote it: the book named after Mark is at the same time divine and also wholly unique to Mark’s perspective.
Similarly, the idea that Elymas was blinded, can be seen as God’s idea and Paul’s idea: the outcome of The Holy Spirit’s interactions with Paul. There is more to be said, here. More to be said about blindness, more to be said about Paul, and more to be said about Elymus. But this is also, I think, a good place to pause, and reflect. More later.