Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ananias, and Loving the Unloveable

Some of our pastor’s sermon today, for this Fourth Sunday of Easter, was in part based on Acts 9:10-19:
"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.’ So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength" (NRSV, from

Our pastor had several good points in her message, and these are a few points that I wrote down. She noted that, although we tend to think of Acts 9 as the story of Paul’s call and conversion, it is also the story of Ananias’ conversation! True, Ananias is already a faithful person; notice how he responds to the Lord’s voice with “Here I am,” the same way Abraham and other Old Testament figures responded to God, indicating that they were already spiritually prepared to hear God.

But---as our pastor pointed out---conversion is a lifelong process. Ananias knew God’s instructions, but he chafed at them: isn’t Saul an extremely dangerous person to any Christian? Saul has authority to arrest people who invoke the name of Christ. But the Lord is already “cross-referencing” persons (as the Lord does elsewhere in Acts), getting Ananias ready just as the Lord is also getting Saul ready.

In this case, Ananias had to open his heart to a despised person---someone who may have hurt friends-of-friends of Ananias---at what might have been great personal risk. Our pastor wonderfully connected this passage to the events in Boston this week: how can we hear the guidance and concern of God when we feel bitter about some awful event? How can we grow in forgiveness and mercy, even if we’re called upon to love someone very unloveable? Our love might not be risky now, but it might be at some point. Therefore, what kind of continuing conversion are we experiencing so that our love can grow?

I thought of a term used by ethicist Eric Mount, whose work I’ve cited elsewhere in these posts. Ananias showed “audacious openness to the Other,” a very good descriptor of biblical, grace-empowered faith.

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