Acts 9-11

Back when I was a kid and wanted to grow up to be a basketball coach, one thing that sunk in was the importance of playing “away from the ball.” When you have the ball in your hands, everyone is focused on you. But in order for a team to be successful, you need the guys who don’t have the ball to move around with a purpose and make things happen. Otherwise you get the “Jordan and the Jordanaires” Bulls who never won anything instead of the 6-time NBA Champion Bulls that Phil Jackson coached.

This isn’t restricted to sports. My favorite TV actor was David Hyde Pierce in his role as Frazier Crane’s brother Niles in Frazier. He was not the star (or else the show would have been called Niles. Duh.) But when he was in a scene that was *about* someone else, if you looked out for him, he would invariably be doing something fascinating and funny. He was a master at acting away from the ball, if you will.

Acts 9-11 has the big stars of the early Church in it. This is Saul on the road to Damascus, plus Peter raises a woman named Tabitha (or Dorcas, because it seems like everyone in Acts has multiple names) from the dead, and Peter has a “come to Jesus” of sorts in a dream about including Gentiles and ropes in a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

(If I had a good commentary lying around, I would dig into the city of Damascus, because it must have been an interesting place, based on a couple points here. But no such luck.)

So while Saul and Peter hog the spotlight, the guy who I find fascinating is Ananias. (This is not the same Ananias who falls over dead after withholding money from the apostles in Acts 5; this one is completely different. How popular must Ananias have been as a name back then? Why aren’t more kids named Ananias today? Anyway.)

This Ananias never met Jesus, but he was a believer in Damascus who, as best we can tell, was a well-respected member of the local Jewish-Christian community there. He is minding his own business when he has a vision in which Jesus calls him by name, and he says, echoing Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah, “Here I am.” Nobody else in the New Testament invokes that phrase.

So Jesus tells him that Saul is in town and has gotten a vision that a guy named Ananias is going to lay hands on him so that he (Saul) can see again.

Ananias tells Jesus that he has heard all kinds of bad things about Saul (which according to the author of Acts were true), but Jesus says “Go because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.”

So Ananias goes to “Brother Saul,” as he calls him, tells him he’s there because Jesus sent him, and places his hands on Saul and restores his sight. Other than Saul (now Paul) retelling this story in Acts 22, he has no other role in the Bible. Absolutely nobody refers to this story as “Ananias plays the hero.” He is following away from the ball.

Here’s the inspiration I get from Ananias in his supporting role:

  1. He owns his moment. That one time that God calls his name, he answers with the same words as the Hall of Famers. Here I am, Lord.
  2. He talks to Jesus directly. He likely had not met Jesus in his earthly ministry, and yet when Jesus appeared in a dream, he didn’t just grovel; he said, I hear you, Jesus, but this guy Saul is really bad news. Are you sure? That takes a level of comfort, with yourself and your god.
  3. When God lays out the plan that Saul is going to be a major character in God’s story, Ananias doesn’t try to pull focus. He could have said “Why pick Saul for all that cool stuff, when I’ve been on your side all along?” He doesn’t sulk or show envy. He just says “Ok then.”
  4. He turns on a dime. Ananias goes from being terrified of Saul to calling him “brother” in a verse or two.
  5. He recedes into the scenery. 

The main characters in God’s story, as told by the Bible, are almost all the most unlikely. But they only shine because of fascinating supporting characters who play their role and disappear. There aren’t a lot of churches, much less people, named for Ananias. But he knew how to be faithful away from the ball.

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