Picture in your mind the worst kind of person you can imagine. Someone you would never want to meet on the street, see at the coffee shop, or come face to face with. It could be someone known for hurting others; for lying, stealing, or cheating. Someone known for destroying lives for their own gain or for no reason at all.
Can you see them? Do they have a name? Is it someone you know, someone who has hurt you or someone you love? Someone whose actions stand in opposition to everything you believe in or clash with your way of life? Someone from history or modern day?
With that person in mind, with all they said and done, all they stand for and against, imagine Jesus coming to you and saying, “go and help them.” Today, that is exactly what Jesus asks us - tells us to do.
In Acts 9, we read of a man named Saul. He was a man deeply devoted to Judaism, believing, protecting, and defending the Law of Moses as told in the first five books of the bible; also called the Torah. He was known as a zealous believer in God. It was this guy named Jesus he had problems with. He was a man who’s life and purpose drastically changed one day while traveling to arrest those called ‘Followers of the Way” those who followed Jesus.
There is a very good chance however, we wouldn’t even know about Paul had it not been for an unsung hero in the bible. This weekend, we continue our look at the lives of lesser known heroes and learn from their example. Today we turn to a hero named Ananias, whose story is only nine verses long but whose example is without end.
At this point in the story, we do not know exactly what is to happen to Saul, what his future role is, or how he is to be used by Jesus to further the Kingdom of God, and neither does he. What we do know is that earlier in chapter seven, Saul, is witness to and approves of the stoning to death of the disciple Stephen. We know in verse one of chapter nine, Saul is “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1).
Saul, in fact, had a clear agenda as he approached Damascus the same day Jesus would get his attention. Saul’s agenda was to arrest, by force if necessary, all followers of Jesus, including Ananias, and deport them to Jerusalem. It was a mission intended to create terror among the Christian community in Damascus.
Saul was the last person Ananias would want to encounter, let alone confront, or have anything to do with. He, like others, may have been hiding for fear of losing their life and doing everything he could to protect his family and community. Jesus however, had something else in mind for them both.
Sometimes the very thing Jesus wants us to do is the very thing we least want to do, the very thing we are afraid to do, or the very thing we never expected to do. Dealing with a challenging situation. Having that hard conversation. Facing a difficult person. Navigating an uncomfortable circumstance. Standing up for what is right. Speaking truth and justice, compassion and love to ears that won’t listen. Staying in control of yourself when you have no control over anything else. Reaching out to the one person you really can’t stand. Facing your fears. Extending mercy when they don’t deserve it. Offering grace without condition.
These are “Ananias moments.” Moments when we come to realize in our humanity, there are situations, circumstances, and people, we simply cannot accept, navigate, deal with, love, or help on our own. The only way we can get through or carry out what is being asked of us is to trust Jesus and recognize it is divine love flowing through us; divine strength within us, and divine wisdom leading us toward a greater purpose.
Ananias was directed by Jesus to minister to the deadliest enemy of the Christian faith at that time. What Ananias didn't fully understand however, was that Jesus prepared the way - Jesus was at work in Saul’s life, preparing him emotionally and spiritually to receive what God was bringing through Ananias. It is a fascinating encounter between two men; between the limitations of humanity and the limitless nature of God. It is about how Jesus brought transformation to Saul and Ananias individually. They certainly were never the same. It was about how Jesus brought transformation to the community; those who were witness to this extraordinary event. And finally, it is about how Jesus brought transformation to the known world through the now Paul, as he traveled and shared the message and teachings of Christ.
We never know what Jesus is doing in the life of another person or how the Spirit of God is at work preparing their heart, soul, and mind. It is not for us to decide when and where, how or why. It is not for us to have all the answers and the master plan. It is for us only to be ready; to be willing to trust in the one who holds our very existence as close to him as our very breath - Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
I pray we all will seek the wisdom of God, walk with courage, and put our confidence and trust in knowing Jesus is at work in ways we cannot yet understand for purposes we cannot yet see.
It worked for Ananias - it just might work for us. Amen
Pastor Jenothy Irvine