When we think of Paul’s conversion (or rather Saul’s conversion to Paul), we think of the Road to Damascus and the brilliant light and him falling to the ground. In Acts 9, where the conversion of Saul is chronicled, the first nine verses refer to this dramatic and memorable scene; however, the next ten verses tell the other incredibly significant, often-overlooked and over-shadowed part of the story: the story of a faithful believer in Christ who followed His master into a very risky friendship.
Ananias. A disciple in Damascus, the very town to which Saul had been headed, breathing threats and murder, according to verse 1. Going about his normal life until he had a vision that radically redirected him towards an incredibly incongruous and unlikely relationship.
Just as the Lord had appeared to Saul and called him by name, the Lord came to Ananias in a vision, calling him by name. Both sons, though very different sons.
The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said to him, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, 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.”
The Lord did not need to give details to the name of Saul, for all the early church knew of Saul of Tarsus. He filled their nightmares with his violent zeal. According to Acts 8, Saul had been ravaging the church and had been a key player in the execution of Stephen, the first martyr. The Greek word for ravishing, lumainomai, literally means to wreak havoc, to corrupt, to defile or to soil.
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard much about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name.”
What confidence the Lord had in his servant Ananias. After all, Saul had already seen a vision that Ananias would come and lay his hands on Saul. It is not unlikely that Ananias had thoughts to lay his hands on Saul in anger for his violence against his fellow believers and the pain and panic he was causing in the lives of believers who were fleeing from Jerusalem to save their lives. Yet, the vision had shown Ananias coming to lay hands on Saul to heal him, not to harm him.
He was to heal the eyes who had likely relished the sight of Stephen being martyred by stoning. Talk about a risky friendship. What if it was an elaborate trap? What if the repentance had been a farce? A ploy to lure believers to harm?
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
On the Word of the Lord, Ananias went. He did as the Lord said. He set himself vulnerably in the presence of one who had ravaged the church and touched him, becoming an instrument of healing to the one who had been an instrument of harm.
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came 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 he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and taking food, he was strengthened.
Had Ananias listened to fear or to prejudice or to even the advice of well-intentioned believers around him, the scales may not have fallen from Saul’s eyes. Had the scales not physically fallen from Saul’s eyes, countless Gentiles and Jews would not have had the spiritual scales fall from the eyes of their hearts which had been blinded by the Enemy (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).
The story of Saul’s conversion is, in some ways, the story of two conversions. Saul’s spiritual conversion to Paul and Ananias’ different conversion to friendship with a former enemy.
Today, I find myself praising the all-powerful God who writes straight with crooked sticks, who uses risky friendships to advance His kingdom. May we learn from Ananias to listen to God’s Word and to step out in obedience towards intentional friendships with those very different from ourselves.