Friday, March 9, 2012

My name is Ananias

My name is Ananias.  I am not important.

Right now I live in Damascus, in the province of Cilicia and Syria under the rule of the Roman Empire.  

I am on my way to do something incredibly foolish.  

We have heard from our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem that a man named Saul is on his way here.  This Saul is already widely known as a persecutor of those of us who have chosen to follow the rabbi known as Jesus.  That rabbi was executed in Jerusalem some weeks ago, which was as awful and agonizing a blow as we who loved and followed him could ever have felt.  But a few days later, some of the disciples and some others began to report that he was no longer dead; somehow, he had risen out of the tomb and walked with his friends and disciples, before being taken up into heaven.

A few days later, when some of those disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, an amazing thing, that I still cannot describe, happened, with the result that a great influx of new followers joined that first community there.  It did not take too long, though, for events to turn against that band.  The authorities first arrested James and had him killed.  They were going to do the same to Peter, so we are told, but somehow he got out of jail before he was killed.  Finally, a fellow named Stephen was stoned to death by a mob.  This wave of deaths scattered many of the brothers and sisters out of Jerusalem.  Some ended up here in Damascus, others continued to travel to places like Antioch and even further.  

The death of Stephen seems to be where this Saul enters the picture.  He was there that day, supporting those who stoned him.  It seems as though somehow he got the taste of blood in his mouth, so to speak.  From that time he has been on a rampage against our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.  Many have been seized and bound over to the authorities, or worse.  

Now it seems that Jerusalem wasn't enough of a challenge.  This Saul got a certification from the Temple authorities in Jerusalem to come here to Damascus and round up more of us.  Supposedly we are to be bound up and hauled off to Jerusalem to be bound over for imprisonment...or worse.

Saul seems to be the fiercest, most vicious enemy of our community that there is.
And I am going to meet him.

It was a vision, or a dream, I don't know.  I don't have visions, and I usually don't remember dreams.  This is all new to me, and I don't claim to understand it.

But it was the Lord, I know that much.  I won't pretend I can convince you; all I know is it was the Lord.  And when the Lord speaks to you -- I mean really speaks -- you say "here I am."  What else can you say?

It seemed a strange vision at first (but then, what do I know from visions?), just instructions to go to the house of a man named Judas on Straight Street.  But then the Lord told me to find Saul there.  The Lord says Saul is praying and in a vision has seen me -- me! -- coming to make him able to see again.  He's having visions about me, and I'm having visions about him.  Too many visions for a practical person like me.

And Saul is blind?  The great persecutor is blind?  That should be our deliverance, right?  He can't go on with his terror campaign if he's blind, can he?  But why did the Lord tell me to go lay hands on him so he could get his sight back?  

We've heard about this Saul, and I told the Lord so.  Do you know what a terrifying thing it is to talk back to God, in person (so to speak, if these visions count as "in person")?  I don't mean like muttering under your breath when some Roman pig mocks you, or shouting an epithet when you stub your toe, or crying out against God when your closest friend dies.  I mean having a direct command from God and...well, not quite saying "no" but I know I wasn't saying "yes" at that point.  

But the Lord says, and this I simply could not at first believe, that this terrorist Saul is his "chosen vessel."  Our Lord is going to use Saul.  Use him for WHAT?  Wiping out the last few of us who still follow the rabbi Jesus?  Is this our punishment?  Are we really that far astray?

No, the Lord says that this beast Saul is going to be his instrument for proclaiming the story, to foreign nations and kings and even to the people of Israel.  

My mind can't comprehend this.  Saul has been killing and arresting and spilling out all sorts of brutal threats and slanders against us, and now it sounds like the Lord is going to make him one of us?

What could I do?  I took up my cloak and left for Straight Street.  

And here I am.  I'm pretty sure this is Judas's house.  Inside that house is a man who, as far as I know, wants to destroy me.  And I am supposed to go put my hands on him and help him see again.  (I'm not stupid, I know I'm not going to "heal" him.  We know that those kinds of signs are the work of the Lord, and we're just the tools, ... or the "chosen vessels" ... .) As far as I know, he might well jump up and kill me the moment I do it.  Or maybe he has a gang of thugs waiting to jump me the moment he has his sight back.  

Am I betraying my brothers and sisters here?  I have to believe the Lord wouldn't put me in this spot to do that.  I have to believe the Lord is seriously going to this amazing thing with this butcher and that we won't all be killed because of what I'm about to do.  But part of me still doesn't believe it, as much as I have to, as much as I want to.  

Why me?  I'm not important, not at all.  There are certainly stronger brothers and sisters here who could handle this better than I am.  You should have called sister Joanna, Lord.  She'd be kicking down the door and whacking this Saul in the head until his sight came back and putting the fear into him so that he wouldn't dare harm a fly.  He'd probably have to change his name after that.  Why me?  I don't want to die, Lord.  

But here I am.  What else can I do?  The Lord, the LORD Lord, gave me a job to do.  And it doesn't matter how scared I am, if everything the rabbi Jesus taught is ever going to mean anything, it's not my place to wimp out when I'm on call.  Supposedly this Saul is going to play a big part in the story going all over our world, and I couldn't bear to stand in the way of that.  Even if it does get me killed.  And even if Saul doesn't turn out to be all that?  Would the rabbi Jesus turn away from a person in need?  You are a hard teacher to follow, rabbi Jesus.

What do I do?  I've never done anything remotely like this.  Do I say something when I put my hands on him?  Do I put my hands directly on his eyes?  

O.K.  It's time to do this.

<knocks on door>

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