Today is my father’s 90th birthday, and his life reflects a long and steady practice of going and doing difficult things. He is part of that so-called “greatest generation” who was called to war in Europe in his youth, and he was fortunate enough to return home to raise five children with my mother (his wife of 64 years) on the farm where he, too, was raised. My folks have also been blessed with a spirit of generosity, which continues to involve helping and serving others. I have been blessed to observe this consistent and faithful pattern and to feel its influence in my life. It is not particularly dramatic, but it has been a powerful force in shaping my life in a positive direction.
Few of us have dramatic experiences that change their lives in the manner of Paul. Paul’s Damascus experience resonates in a special way as I consider how his experience with Jesus changed his life’s direction. Paul’s youthful enthusiasm, wrought by his years of education and fueled by the approval of those in the reigning power structures within his community, took him down a path where he acted with great certainty in oppressing those who followed Jesus. But an encounter with Jesus forced him to answer the question: “Why are you persecuting me?” Oddly enough, Paul did not know who was asking this question. Perhaps he really did not know what he was doing.
When Paul learned it was Jesus, he did not respond with all of the arguments he had in his arsenal. I am surprised that he did not seek to justify his persecuting ways. Instead, he just did what Jesus told him. We are told that later scales fell from his eyes and he was able to see clearly. The product of his new vision and his changed life has touched many other lives, too.
The story of Ananias is just as surprising as Paul’s story. Ananias was a faithful man who undoubtedly identified with the persecuted Christian brothers and sisters who suffered because of Paul. If I were in Ananias’ shoes, not only would I be fearful, but I would also be plenty frosted with this zealous and arrogant persecutor of my friends. Isn’t it interesting that Ananias, who knew God’s voice, needed to ask God if he knew all the facts? I like his honesty. And I admire the fact that somehow Ananias was able to put all of this past aside, to the point of not only going to Paul and praying for him, but also in calling him his “brother”. What a remarkable story of forgiveness and faithfulness!
In my own experience, forgiving often seems more difficult than going and doing something difficult. Interior change is harder to begin than exterior conformity. But sometimes going and doing something precedes or accompanies a change of heart. Ananias provides a remarkable example of cooperating with God, and in doing so he participated in God’s wondrous work in and through Paul.
May God have mercy on each of us to help us to recognize situations where we are seeing with scales on our eyes, and to have the courage to change, even to forgive. And may we appreciate the power of positive examples that are all around us.
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