(Ananias caring for Paul, by by Pietro da Cortona, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Daily Office Readings for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 25, 2019:
Our reading today from Acts, of Saul-who-would-later-be-Paul, on the road to Damascus, is such an attention-getter, Ananias sort of falls into the background. Yet his own story is worth a great deal of reflection in its own right.
History hasn’t left us much info about Ananias, but we know that he was one of the earliest Christians, and that Hippolytus of Rome listed him as one of the seventy that Jesus sent out “two by two” in Luke 10. Other sources add that he was martyred by stoning for refusing to worship idols. Really, the most we know about Ananias was what we read today in Acts.
Ananias had a vision where he was given directions of how to find Saul, and instructions to heal him and care for him and restore his sight. When the vision started, Ananias responded to God in the vision by saying, “Here I am, Lord,” much in the same way Samuel did in the Hebrew Bible. He was probably regretting that “Here I am” when he found out the task before him. Needless to say, being instructed to heal the man who had been persecuting the early Christians was probably not on Ananias’ radar. He protests–with good reason! Ananias knows that Saul has the authority to arrest Jesus followers. It sounds, smells, and feels like a trap. Yet he goes anyway, and Saul is healed from his blindness–and the most zealous convert that Christianity may well have known, was poised to begin his ministry.
The story of Ananias reminds us that sometimes, our most closely held feelings and our initial reactions to things shouldn’t always be our guide to how we live our lives. Common sense would have told any of us that openly approaching someone who has the power to destroy us isn’t a good idea. Any of us who have been to risk management seminars in the medical field are told under no circumstances directly engage a patient who is suing you–”let the lawyers handle it.” Avoidance of conflict is the name of the game.
Yet, over and over again, the stories of the Bible put the bearers of the Word, time and time again, into the mouth of conflict. The prime example, of course, is the story of Jesus himself–but we are shown again and again that Jesus isn’t the only one, and that it doesn’t stop with the Bible. The stories of the saints reveal that the pattern continues.
Despite his initial reaction, Ananias kept listening to the voice of God, and the more he heard, the more he realized his initial reaction was just that–only a reaction–and that Christian life and service was never meant to be conflict free. As it turns out, God is in the midst of the conflict.
When is a time God has asked you to do something you didn’t initially want to do? What changed your mind?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri . She presently serves as Interim Assistant Priest at two churches, Church of the Good Shepherd in Town and Country, MO, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Manchester, MO, as they explore a shared ministry model.