Sometimes, God works in surprising ways.
Our brains are always trying to make sense of what happens to us, trying to make the world into a more orderly and predictable place. Part of that order is the way we divide the social world into good guys and bad guys, friends and enemies. These are the people I can trust; these are the ones I can’t. These are the people who will love me and will help me; these are the ones who hate me and will hurt me.
It’s not that hard for people who were once friends to be perceived as enemies; one important betrayal will do the trick. But given our penchant for protecting ourselves from threat, it’s harder to move someone from the enemy category to being a friend. Something truly remarkable would have to happen first.
Something, perhaps, like a visitation from God.
As we’ve seen, Jesus appears to both Saul and a man named Ananias in order to complete Saul’s commission as an apostle. Reading between the lines of Luke’s narrative, Damascus, and not Jerusalem, is Ananias’ hometown. That means that he is not directly one of Saul’s targets. But news of Saul’s violent persecution of believers has traveled. He’s heard the stories of what happened in Jerusalem, and presumably, he’s acquainted with some of the brethren who have fled to Damascus as refugees.
Ananias is justifiably concerned. Jesus appears to him and tells him to go to Saul in order to restore his sight. But Ananias responds as if Jesus hasn’t heard the news: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name” (Acts 9:13-14, CEB).
Somehow, I don’t imagine these words being spoken matter-of-factly, but with some urgency and incredulity. He is probably thinking to himself the Aramaic equivalent of Lord, you’ve got to be kidding.
But this isn’t disobedience on his part. Indeed, when Jesus first called his name, Ananias responded the way any true prophet might: “Yes, Lord” (Acts 9:10, CEB, NIV), or better, “Here I am, Lord” (NRSV). And though he has his reservations, he does what Jesus tells him to do.
He finds Saul where Jesus said he would be, and addresses him as “Brother Saul,” hardly the name you’d give to someone who had terrorized your extended family. He tells him that he was sent by Jesus to heal him of his blindness and impart the Holy Spirit. Presumably, Ananias lays hands on Paul and prays; immediately, the scales that had kept Saul sightless fall from his eyes. Ananias baptizes him, and for the first time in three days, Paul has something to eat.
The Bible is full of characters like this. While the adventures of Paul and Peter fill many pages of Luke’s story, some characters, like Ananias, only get a walk-on and a line or two.
But that’s not to diminish the importance of his role. Jesus appears to him and gives him a surprising part in a surprising story, and Ananias plays that part faithfully and obediently before disappearing from the narrative.
Who knows? Jesus might call you to be a conduit of his grace to an enemy.
Just don’t be too surprised when it happens.