So this is actually one of three guys named Ananias we run into in the book of Acts. There’s this fellow, there’s the guy who fudged on his record of giving and then there’s a high priest that has a running argument about who can preach what in the temple.
I want to pay attention to the first two. “Ananias” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “H’nanya,” which is usually translated “Yahweh has been gracious.” Because their culture paid more attention to name meanings than ours often does, I imagine both men heard a lot about God’s graciousness when they were growing up.
We meet the problem Ananias first. He and his wife Sapphira had become believers and had sold some property. They gave part of the money to the church, which was no problem for anyone. But they made out like they donated it all.
Peter first called out Ananias on the discrepancy. Confronted with the reality that he had tried to deceive God, Ananias died. When Sapphira came looking for her husband, Peter gave her the same treatment, and she died too. Which is why I’m not scared of the IRS – all they can do is audit me.
The Ananias we read about in this passage is a believer in Damascus who has a vision one day. In the vision, God tells him to go to a certain house, where he will find a certain Saul of Tarsus. Saul has had a vision of his own, it seems, and it blinded him. God wants Ananias to heal Saul.
Ananias is not certain this is a good idea. He knows very well who Saul of Tarsus is, and he knows that as far as Christians are concerned, a blind Saul is a good Saul. Saul persecuted Christians in Jerusalem, and he’d been planning to take his act on the road, with Damascus as his first stop. At the very least, Ananias would like to not have Saul be able to identify his voice in court.
But God tells Ananias to go anyway. When he meets Saul, he welcomes him as a brother and touches his eyes, and Saul is healed. So what can we learn from this tale of two Ananiases? Ananiai? Whatever.
Two men, whose names were constant reminders that God is gracious. That fact seems to have had a different impact on them.
We could make a good argument that it had no impact at all on the problem Ananias. We don’t know his history, but I doubt the scheme of misreporting income was a new idea for him. He strikes me as a guy working all the angles, always trying to find a corner to cut or a new plan to shade a deal his way. If explained the phrase “looking out for number one” to him, I imagine he’d get it right away.
We don’t know why he kept part of the donation back, but it seems obvious he thought of what he had as what he had, and not what God had given to him. He didn’t yet understand that everything was God’s, given to him as a gift. He gave to God what he thought he could spare, and kept back some for himself.
The Ananias from this passage has the same chance to try to keep hold of what he has. Meeting with Saul of Tarsus could cost him his freedom or even his life. But he didn’t think like the other Ananias. His life and his freedom, like his possessions and everything else he had, weren’t his anymore. They belonged to God, and Ananias in becoming a follower of Christ had given them to God to be used however he saw fit.
Does this mean he wanted Saul to arrest or kill him? I doubt it.
I think it means he decided to act on the faith he’d talked about. I think it means he decided he would trust that God would stand with him no matter he might have to face when he met Saul. In fact, imprisonment is a worst-case situation anyway, because God has promised him Saul would be no threat to him. What has he to fear? Ananias acts on his faith and obeys God, even greeting Saul as “brother.”
To me, Ananias’ greatest act of faith was to say that word to the man who persecuted his friends. It was also his greatest act of grace. Saul had done nothing to deserve Ananias’ friendship but Ananias set that aside in order to treat Saul as he knew God had treated Ananias.
Ananias had heard the word, and come to believe. Why? Because, just as his name said, “Yahweh has been gracious.” Through grace, the message of life came from Christ and Ananias had the chance to follow it.
And if God had been that gracious to Ananias, how could Ananias be anything else towards someone else, even Saul of Tarsus?