Nobodies of the Bible: Ananias of Damascus
When we think of Paul's conversion, we generally associate it with the road to Damascus. Then still known as Saul, he was on the way there to round up all the Christians he could find, bind them in chains, and haul them back to Jerusalem for trial and execution. God stopped him cold.
Actually, as a result of the Damascus Road encounter, Saul groped around blindly, wondering what hit him. True, he did ask, "Who are you, Lord?" but the Greek for "lord" is kyrios, which could just as easily have been translated "sir." It was a perfectly ordinary word and did not indicate that Saul thought he was addressing God.
As it turns out, Jesus had knocked him off his horse and blinded him. Saul could not have gained any peace from that news. As he fasted for three days, his mind must have roiled with anxiety and confusion. God got his attention all right, but if groping around wondering what hit him was a conversion experience, then we all know lots of people we can stop praying for! If that's salvation, then maybe we don't need evangelists or preachers.
Paul's salvation came at the hands of a man named Ananias. The book of Acts has two men of that name. One dropped dead in chapter 5. We learn everything there is to know about the other after Paul's companions led him into Damascus.
Luke doesn't tell us much of what we like to know about people. We don't know if he was young or old, rich or poor, healthy or frail, married or single, educated or illiterate, respected in the community or an outcast, a new convert or seasoned believer. But we can see his heart.
- He had a vision. People who had visions of God in the Bible were devout people, people of prayer, people who know how to worship. (cf. Is. 6:1-8, Dan. 9:20-21; Acts 10:1-3--not every account of a vision describes what the person was doing at the time)
- He was not looking for a vision. His prayer was not self-centered. He was not focused on his own troubles. He must have been consistently obedient to whatever guidance he received.
- God found him usable, but Ananias wasn't seeking to be usable. He was in love. This is grace at work, not Ananias's work.
- God did not appear to Ananias to bless him or reward him for faithful service or to give him personal guidance. He appeared to Ananias to put him to work for his own purpose. He needed someone who would listen and obey.
- Where in the NIV Ananias said, "Yes, Lord," translations in the King James tradition have "Here I am." How many times does God called someone who isn't there? But Ananias was fully present to the presence of the Lord.
Saul had also been praying. Though physically blind, he had a vision. In that vision, God told him to wait for someone named Ananias. In telling Ananias that detail, God did not leave him any room to weasel out of his assignment.
Still, Ananias hesitated. Saul, after all, presented a severe threat to the entire Christian community. Everyone knew his mission and everyone wanted to avoid him. So God explained himself to Ananias. That does not happen often. Many saints have the experience of obeying God with barely enough light to take the next step and no clue why they have to be in such a difficult situation. We see both God's sense of urgency and Ananias' yieldedness and trust.
Once Ananias found Saul, he addressed him without hesitation as "Brother Saul." He demonstrated complete, unhesitant love and acceptance to someone who had so recently been a threat to his very life. Placing his hands on Saul, Ananias prayed.
Luke does not say who baptized Saul, who offered him food, or how Saul's companions responded to the whole chain of events. It seems reasonable to suppose that Saul and Ananias had a much more extended relationship than Luke records, both that day and while Saul proclaimed the gospel in the synagogues of Damascus. But after Saul returned to Jerusalem, Ananias disappears from history.
It was more than ten years after this that Paul started his missionary journeys. It would be even llater, if ever, that Ananias would ever hear news of what Paul accomplished.
- Did Ananias ever make the connection between his prayer for a confused and frightened young man and the tremendous success of a great missionary?
- If we could meet him at the end of his life and ask him what he thought were the highlights of his life, would he have remembered this prayer?
If we seek God and yield to him, as Ananias did, we can do great things for the Lord. We may never find out in this life what they are. Our part is to serve God faithfully, not to wonder where the spotlight is focused.