This morning at the Eucharist, we read the story of the conversion of Saul/Paul as told in Acts 9. We had already heard it Sunday morning, though the verses selected were slightly different. Not for the first time, I heard it and wondered about Ananias. How on earth did he have the courage to seek out someone who had come to Damascus with the express purpose of throwing him and his companions in Christ in jail? The depth of his trust in God is truly breathtaking. I want that, too.
Now, it's not that he asks no questions. He does. I don't believe for a moment that God minds our asking questions, even if it's an initial, "Seriously?" So Ananias has his own version of "Really???" in response to his vision of Jesus:
But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel. (Acts 9:13-15)
I recall reading a sermon that pointed out that God doesn't answer Ananias' questioning by telling him he will be safe. God just tells him to go. And so he does.
I wonder if his friends and family were there when he decided to set off to the street called Straight to find their declared enemy and heal him. I can't imagine they would encourage him. If they knew, chances are they were terrified both for him and for themselves.
As it turns out, I have the Noon Office reading for this week, and so this morning I needed to find a non-scriptural reading to accompany the scripture reading. Naturally, I did what any good nun would do: Googled "the courage of Ananias." I'd like to share with you what I found to read in chapel.
For years, the vivid memories of my first encounter with this week's text led me to believe I had a handle on the story. But everything changed the day a seminary classmate preached a sermon in which she wondered aloud about Ananias's role in Saul's conversion…I'm not sure if Ananias was completely omitted from the Bible school experience of my childhood or if his role in the story--with its lack of flashing lights--simply failed to grab my attention. Either way, I missed Ananias altogether, which is a shame….
Ananias deserves our consideration. Though it's understandable that his role is overshadowed by Saul's overall story, he is to be commended for acting out of obedience in the face of fear. When Ananias gives voice to his trepidation, he also reveals that he has heard of Saul through the grapevine. Even if Ananias's fears are well founded, we might imagine that they are magnified by the rumor mill.
And yet--Ananias chooses to trust that his assessment of Saul as dangerous is outweighed by God's choice to use Saul to bring God's name "before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel." Ananias believes God. When he meets Saul face to face, he doesn't scout out the situation or test the validity of Saul's repentance. Ananias greets him as "Brother Saul," and Saul's sight is restored; the scales fall from Saul's eyes.
Each day… I hear on the radio the stories of those who struggle to live: brothers and sisters who face the daily threats of gun violence, poverty, and systemic abuse. I hear the stories of people the world over who are persecuted because of their race, ethnicity, gender, the people they choose to love, or the way in which they experience God. I am haunted…by the stories of so many… who have been forced from their homes. Alongside these heartbreaking stories, I also hear a narrative that points to a terrifying pattern. When we are at our worst, we allow our fears, real or imagined, to trump God's call to be in relationship with those who suffer. Now is the time to take a cue from Ananias. Believe God. And call the storytellers by the only names that fit: sister, brother, family, child of God. Perhaps when we no longer allow our fears to stand in the way of the reconciling work of God, the scales will fall from our eyes, too.
You can read the full sermon from which this is taken here: The courage of Ananias: Austin Crenshaw Shelley's lectionary e-mail from Monday | The Christian Century
May God give us, too, the grace to put aside our fear and live in a deeper trust. As Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:28) May God help us to know more fully that Christ is risen and that this is all the safety we need.