Friday, May 05, 2017

Lesser Known Instruments of the Lord

By Colleen O’Sullivan

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, and in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, that he may regain his sight." But Ananias replied, "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name." (Acts 9:10-16)

Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (John 6:57)

Lord, may my heart be open to whatever you ask of me today.

Pietro De Cortana, Ananias restoring
the sight of Saint Paul, 1631,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we have the dramatic story of Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul is living and breathing for one thing only as the Scripture passage opens. He burns with the desire to rid the world of Jesus’ followers. He is on his way to Damascus to begin eradicating any trace of the Way in that city. But Jesus literally stops him in his tracks. The Lord then takes that fiery zeal and redirects it. Saul eventually becomes Paul, a great evangelizer for the young Church.

I love this story, but I have a hard time relating to it. In my life, conversion is a process. I’ve never been struck blind or had my life turned around in one fell swoop.

The character I more easily identify with is Ananias, a little-known Christian in Damascus. He may not be a well-known figure who appears on many pages of the New Testament, but God asks him to play a key role in Saul’s conversion. I can see myself in Ananias’ response. Instead of immediately doing what the Lord asks him to, Ananias argues with him about whether this is a good idea or not. Now, Lord, do you realize this man is a terrorist? I may live quite a journey from Jerusalem, but we have heard how ruthless he is in seizing and persecuting followers of the Way. You can’t be serious! How do I know he won’t harm me? Yes, that would be me, questioning God’s plan and coming up with alternate plans as though I were in charge of the situation.

God tells Ananias that Saul is expecting him, and God wants to make Saul the means of carrying Jesus’ name to the Gentiles as well as to the children of Israel, so Ananias needs to go and pray with him. I feel a great deal of empathy for Ananias here. He has legitimate fears to contend with. This Saul is responsible for having gravely harmed other members of Jesus’ family. Ananias’ very trust in God is also on the line. Then, there’s the question of forgiveness. Before Ananias can sincerely pray with Saul, he needs to summon up forgiveness toward him, not the easiest thing to do in many circumstances. Astoundingly, as soon as Ananias reaches the house where Saul is staying, he is moved to address the blind man as “brother.” He lays hands on Saul and prays. Saul’s blindness disappears. He not only has his sight restored but is graced with insight into Jesus’ person and mission. He is baptized and soon thereafter begins proclaiming the good news that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.

The world is full of Ananias-like people, little known outside their circles of family and friends, but who, nevertheless, faithfully serve God by sharing the Good News with people like you and me. Who introduced you to Jesus? Who has prayed with you along the way, helping you to be more conformed to the image of Christ?

When has God called you to proclaim the Gospel to someone? What happened as a result?

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