Obedience is Facing Death: the Faith of Ananias

Both of the options for the first reading for tomorrow’s Mass for the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul come from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. A portion of one I would like to examine tonight:

Acts 9:10-19
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and 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 ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, that he may regain his sight.” But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

Six days ago on January 18th, I talked about the readings of the day which dealt with Samuel as a boy responding to God’s call saying: “Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will.” This same refrain is taken up later in Psalm 40. Here, too, in Acts, we have the same response this time spoken by the faithful man, Ananias: “Here I am, Lord.” All followers of the Lord should present themselves each day to Him with these words. These words are simple and rather easy to say. Where these words lead is another matter.

These words say: “I will obey you, Lord, wherever you lead.” Sometimes He leads us into dangerous or terrifying or illogical places. He led Ananias into the mouth of the lion, Saul. Not long before, Saul oversaw and approved the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Saul had come to Damascus to imprison Christians. Ananias knew this and protested to God that it was not a good idea to have anything to do with this Saul. God tells Ananias that Saul is His chosen instrument so Ananias must go to Saul. Prudence would tell one that this was not a good idea. Faithfulness, which is comfortable in the dark, would say that it is by obedience that we love God.

Stepping out in trust of God’s word and risking his very life, Ananias went to Saul and told him about Jesus. What trust in God Ananias had! And it was this act that played an important role in the conversion of the Great Apostle Paul. In Ananias’ obedience, very good fruit was borne.

Obedience is a very difficult matter to digest. If I tell you that you have to take the million dollars I am going to give you, you would not have too much trouble doing as I say and taking the money. If I told you that I wanted you to do whatever you wanted to do, that would not be too hard either. That has little to do with obedience. Obedience comes in to play when one is told to do something very difficult or what one would rather not do or what seems to go against all reason. True obedience brings about fullness life and joy; disobedience brings about death and destruction. Ananias faced the lion of obedience with the awesome power of a humble and trusting faith; he slayed the dragon with his faith, and he reaped a harvest of abundant fruit in the man, Saint Paul. It is the heart that loves, trusts and obeys God that bears much fruit and gives God’s life to the world.

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