Saturday, January 25, 2014

Up close and personal

Today we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul, and normally we would focus on Paul, and the road, the encounter with Jesus. Instead, there is another person without whom there would have been no ministry to the Gentiles, Ananias.

Today is also his feast day. Truth be told we know very little about St. Ananias of Damascus. What we do know is that when he was first called upon his response was simple, "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man", and nothing he had heard was good. We human beings have changed little over the centuries. Bad news travels fast.

We know nothing about his many sources. Was it people who actually knew Saul of Tarsus or was it simply the same rumors that had been passed around so that many sources were repeating the same stories over and over.

What sets Ananias apart was that he was not locked into the image he had of Saul from the stories he had heard. Even though his natural tendency was to believe the worst, and the truth about Saul was bad, he was willing to take the next step, to move beyond second or third hand information and meet the man face to face.

It is easy for us to hate someone we only know from a distance, a face on television, a story on the internet. On some level they are not really people. It's a very different thing when we sit down and meet with them face to face. Ananias entered the house and laid hand on him. Suddenly Saul is no longer the devil that Ananias had heard about, Ananias now calls him "my brother."

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.

And the rest is the history of how Christianity moved beyond the tiny world of Galilean Judaism to the whole world.

Besides what this story tells about the power of forgiveness and conversion, it also tells us about human interaction. While email and text are great tools, there is a danger. When we are angry or unhappy about something it is far to easy to fire off the snarky email or text. People will email things that they would never say face to face. In person we cannot forget that the other is a person, with a family, and feeling just like us. Face to face it is hard not to acknowledge the humanity of others.

Ananias saw the person of Saul, and even touched him, and both men were changed.

Today is a time to not only remember St. Paul, but also St. Ananias and pray that we can say about every person, "my brother" or "my sister."