St Paul – Saul as he was then known – had been breathing murderous threats against the church. As a zealous Pharisee, he consumed huge amounts of energy not only observing Moses’ Law, but a mass of other rules and regulations intended to prevent religious people even getting close to breaking a Biblical law. These Christians who talked about tearing the temple down were undermining everything he stood for. They had to be exterminated!
Imagine you were one of those Christians, being told by God to go and find this man, whom you know has come to your town with papers for your arrest, and lay hands on him for healing! Most of us would doubt the “inner voice” at that point! Ananias, the one God spoke to, went to meet his enemy, placed his hand upon him, and addressed him as “Brother Saul”.
It was a huge boundary to cross, and the fact that Ananias took that step must have had a powerful impact on Paul. His eyes immediately cleared. He got up, was baptised, and began to regain his strength. It must have been very strange to be so welcome among the enemy camp, and the experience was surely not lost on him. Paul never mentions Ananias in his letters, but he does tell of how James, Peter and John later extended “the right hand of fellowship” to him. (Galatians 2)
In that early letter he fights furiously for the complete inclusion of non-Jewish believers, and their full acceptance as fellow members of God’s people. He says passionately, “You are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” If he, the arch-persecutor of Christ, could be welcomed, surely anyone could be.
We will never know how much that initial act of acceptance meant to Paul, but given his passion for the inclusion of others, we can well believe that it was hugely influential. There are so many ways, stances and habits we have by which others are effectively excluded or made to feel less than welcomed. Paul was a particularly difficult character, so thank God for the simple warmth and openness of Ananias.
Never devalue your actions in Christ’s name: you could be the Ananias to a future Paul.
This article first appeared in Sunday Link, Redemptorist Publications