Facing a challenge

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.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, — Acts 9:10-19a (NRSV)

One of the most prevalent responses in the Bible seems to be “Here I am” or “Here am I.” Seems like somebody’s always saying it, especially when it’s God calling someone and they respond verbally. It’s a pretty good answer, even if it quite often it sets a person off on a very difficult journey with a lot of hard work and possibly some real opposition to overcome.

Ananias was no different. God called and Ananias, good disciple that he was, gave the proper answer, “Here I am, Lord.” Now it seems funny for someone to say that to God, because, after all, God always knows where a person is. At least it gives the person the option of ignoring it or hanging out the “Out to Lunch” sign on the door. Still, most of the folks in the Bible seem to be curious about what God wants, so they do the Biblical equivalent of picking up the ringing cell phone and saying “Hello?” When Ananias heard what it was God wanted, though, he might have wanted to turn tail, run far and fast in the opposite direction and hope God would forget the whole thing. God’s instruction? Go find the guy who’s responsible for the greatest persecution of the followers of Jesus in all of Israel and do what? Deliberately seek out Saul of Tarsus and calmly introduce himself as Ananias, a follower of Jesus sent by God to resolve a problem Paul had been contending with for three or four days? How nutty is that? It’s like sending a lamb into the den of a lion, but God wasn’t kidding, and when God isn’t kidding, there’s only one thing to do. Ananias put on his Birkenstocks, wrapped himself in his cloak and set out, hoping he would return in one piece at the end of the encounter.

There are times when a person has to do what they don’t want to do, or perhaps something they are afraid to do. It takes a lot of courage sometimes and often more than a little faith to step out and challenge oneself, even if it seems God is doing the calling forth. In Ananias’ case, it was asking him to trust that (a) Saul was not laying a trap, (b) Saul really needed assistance or (c) that God really wasn’t playing a joke on him. Evidently, Ananias weighed the options and figured trusting God was enough, so off he went to the street called Straight and got on with what he had been sent to do. I wonder — what were his thoughts when he first came into the room where Saul was? Did he have a moment to pause and look at the enemy, sitting or lying there blind and defenseless, before Saul knew of his presence? Or did he just walk in, lay hands on Saul, pray and then beat feet out the door? Saul was healed and then baptized, so did Ananias do that as well? The answers have to be left to the imagination, but it certainly makes for an interesting series of thoughts.

I wonder what I would do if I were in Ananias’s shoes (or Birks). What if I felt God told me to go to someone I saw as an enemy and to do something for them? What if it were to go to someone I feared or hated? If I saw them, weak and hurting in front of me, would I forget the fear and hate and see their humanity and their need, or only their weakness and helplessness and gloat just a bit? I have to admit, Ananias is probably a bigger person than I might be, much as I’d like to think I could do as he did.

When it comes to the “Here I am, Lord” thing, I have to ponder the power of those four words. They have the power to totally transform things, to shove aside the familiar and drop me into a whirlpool of unfamiliarity and real (or perceived) risk and danger. They have the power to force me to make a decision as to which path to follow and the potential consequences of each one. They have the power to totally reverse my direction and my thinking. Most of all, though, they have the power to open new possibilities and opportunities. They have the power to make me something more than I can be if left to my own devices, to be a help to a person, a group or maybe a world and not just a timid creature hiding in the safety of my own house or mind. “Here I am, Lord,” can take me into the lions’ den, like Ananias felt he was walking into, and make those lions into peaceful, purring house cats. Now house cats I can live with, provided I have enough nerve to walk into the arena in the first place.

So now my job is to listen for that cell phone or knock on the door — and decide how I will answer.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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