God converts, not man – Friday, 3rd Week of Easter, Acts 9:1-20
Perhaps as many scholars suggest, this passage of the conversion of Saul (his Hebrew name) is one that was dear to the heart of Luke, for he mentions it thrice in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 22:6 -16; 26:12—18).
This is the third conversion story that we will read in quick succession. The Samaritan conversion facilitated by Philip is followed by the eunuch of Ethiopia, and now the show stopper – the conversion of Paul. It is a fallacy to believe that humans have the power to convert; they are only chosen by God to be the human instrument as we will see in the case of Saul and Ananias. The one who truly converts is God, and hence I think a certain correction in our minds is imperative for those who see ‘Christians as convertors’.
The passage begins with the rage of Saul against the Christians. We are told he is “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Anger, if not checked can be a ballistic missile gone rogue; crazy enough to murder others. To ignore anger as a minor irritant in our spiritual life is to ignore the early warning signs of the impending doom of our actions. Where the mind goes, the man follows.
Paul has set out on the way to Damascus to put to death those who belonged “to the way”; this is how the early Christians were referred to. It is ironic how Saul, who had lost his way was seeking those who were ‘of the way’. Yet it is on the way that he encounters the ‘Lord of the way’.
The encounter we are told is ‘sudden’ for God enters our life at His time, when we least expect. This word “suddenly” finds itself in Acts 2:1 on the day of Pentecost and again in Luke 24:4 (Acts and Luke are both written by St Luke) on Easter Sunday. Interestingly the Lord does not only make a sudden appearance but He also ‘care-fronts’ the person with a direct question. Jesus makes it clear that it is not the Christians that Paul is persecuting, but Jesus himself; “Why do you persecute ME…I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (verse4).
When the Lord breaks into our world, He demands a radical change. A Christian who has experienced the Lord must now “get up”. Paul is asked to “get up” (verse 6) and that’s what he does (verse 8). But Saul is not the only one in whose life the Lord breaks through on this momentous day; there is another and his name is Ananias. He too is asked to “go” (verse 15) and lay hands on Saul and baptize him.
Was it easy for Ananias to do God’s will? I think that he, like the Prophet Jonah was reluctant, for Ananias tries to dissuade the Lord from the mission he has been given. It almost seems like Ananias has forgotten that the Lord knows everything, for he wants to remind Jesus that “Saul is full of evil”. Perhaps it had dawned on Ananias that he was on Saul’s death wish too. Why should he, like the prophet Jonah, be compelled by God to work towards the redemption of his enemy?
Yet God uses Ananias, reluctant as he may be, to be the instrument of His Grace. Perhaps there were two conversions that day, Saul and Ananias. Two mind sets were changed; one towards the love of God and the other towards the love of an enemy. The conversion of Paul has both the horizontal and vertical dimension, tracing the pattern of the cross.
How do we know for certain that Ananias was also converted from hate to love? The answer is in his address to Saul when he meets him in Damascus – he addresses him as “Brother Saul” (verse 17).
Fr Warner D’Souza