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A Tale of Two Men... and of Us
The Third Sunday of Easter (Year C)
First Reading: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]
Psalter: Psalm 30
Epistle: Revelation 5:11-14
Gospel: John 21:1-19
God of victory over death, your Son revealed himself again and again, and convinced his followers of his glorious resurrection. Grant that we may know his risen presence, in love obediently feed his sheep, and care for the lambs of his flock, until we join the hosts of heaven in worshiping you and praising him who is worthy of blessing and honor, glory and power, for ever and ever. Amen.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. 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 at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:10-16)
In Acts chapter nine two men are, in a sense, awakened from the slumbering routine of their day in a startling way. Saul, public enemy number one, as far as the church is concerned, is traveling on the Damascus Road. He has orders from the religious authorities in Jerusalem to round up as many Jewish Christians as he can find in Damascus in order to bring them back to Jerusalem, presumably to stand trial for their newly found faith in Jesus, which as far as Saul, was concerned, was a blatant rejection of the ancestral traditions and a perversion of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Saul had overseen the stoning of Stephen, a convert to Christianity, in Jerusalem, and now he was headed north, where it appeared that Christianity had made solid inroads in the Jewish community there.
On the way along with some companions, Saul is awakened from his own agenda and given another. He will become a member of the very same group he has been persecuting. He will become a follower of Jesus. He is led to Damascus as one struck blind and he waits for the new world that is in store for him.
In Damascus, there is a faithful disciple of Jesus, Ananias. We have not heard of this Ananias until now, and after the story of Saul’s conversion concludes, we will never hear of him again. Andy Warhol said that everyone gets his or her fifteen minutes of fame. Acts chapter nine recounts Ananias’ brief and famous moments.
Ananias is told that he must encounter this Saul and bring him into the faith through baptism. It is understandable that Ananias would be quite skeptical over Saul’s conversion. After all, Ananias has heard of Saul and what he had done to the church in Jerusalem. What if this is a ruse; a trick of Saul's to infiltrate the church in Damascus in order to arrest the leadership and bring them back to Jerusalem? Just as Saul, Ananias is awakened from the routine of his life and called upon to be part of something larger, something that will change the course of Christianity.
Most commentators focus on Saul in Acts chapter nine, which is understandable. He is by far the most famous and most influential of the two men in our story. But it is unfortunate that often Ananias in neglected. He is a critical part of Saul’s conversion. He not only initiates Saul into the Christian faith, but it will become his job to convince the Christians in Damascus that Paul’s conversion is indeed real and that this former persecutor and now be trusted as a fellow disciple.
All of us love a good story; and in particular, we all love good stories told about people. We enjoy biography, which is currently one of the most popular forms of literature being written. We also like telling stories. American-English writer, Helen Rowland wrote, “Life begins at forty—but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times.” Perhaps the stories we tell say more about us than the people who are the subject of those stories. But we clearly pay attention to the lives of others. Jesus knew our attraction to story, which is why he so often taught about the great things of God's kingdom in story form—and in the common everyday images of his world— farmers casting seeds, birds nesting in tress, and sibling rivalry.
What we must not forget as we reflect upon Jesus’ stories and the story of Jesus, and the tale of Saul and Ananias in this story from Acts, is that each and every one of us is a story, and we are right at this moment writing the stories of our lives. Some of us are farther along toward the conclusion than others; still others are in the initial chapters. Wherever we are on this life’s journey, each of our lives is a tale to be told; and most significantly, it must be a story in which our lives reflect the character of God.
We know that Saul/Paul was faithful in the writing of the story of his life, and it is probably safe to assume that Ananias did as well, given how he responded to the call of God in Acts 9. That is why we still tell this tale of these two men today. They instruct each and every one of us as we write the story of our lives day and day out.
What is our purpose as disciples of Jesus Christ? Have we discovered that purpose? What tales will people tell about us that will reflect that divine purpose that has been given to each of us? We won't get our name in the pages of the Bible, but we must never forget that the Bible is our story too. Each day are we living our lives in such a way, that if they ever added pages to the Holy Scripture, they would add our story too?
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