When we read the story of the conversion of Saint Paul, there is one person who is usually overlooked, Ananias. Ananias has every reason to be terrified at having to visit the house in Straight Street where Saul of Tarsus is staying. Saul isn’t just rude to people, he doesn’t just harangue them; he has them arrested; he has them thrown into prison; he has them killed.
Ananias hears God’s voice in a vision and he is none too happy about it. “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done”, he says to God. But God is adamant in his instructions, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument”.
I am sure that it was with trembling and trepidation that Ananias plucked up courage and went to the house. On arrival, the words he uses are striking, “Brother Saul”. No matter how he personally felt about this meeting with Saul, he was there to speak on behalf of Jesus and in the eyes of Jesus they were brothers. Then Ananias explains why he is there, “the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.
Why is Ananias needed at all? Why could God not simply have cured Saul? Because the Christian Gospel is about flesh and blood people, it’s not just about us praying upwards to God, it’s about our relationships with other people. Saul who becomes Paul is the one who is going to stress time and time again that we are all equal before God and that there should be no divisions between us.
Ananias is there to show that Saul is accepted by the Christian community, that he is welcome among them as a brother. What does his example say to us?
None of us is ever going to be a Saint Paul. Like Ananias, we are bit part players and like Ananias we can play our part. We have people that we are wary about, perhaps we would admit that there are even people who terrify us. Why not take a risk, though, and stretch out a hand of friendship to someone we avoid; even if we feel as fearful as Ananias, to greet the person as a brother or sister as Ananias greeted Saul?
Saul was changed by that meeting with Ananias, the person we meet can be changed by meeting with us. Saul was chosen for God’s work, that same God has work for each of us.