The Brave One
Acts 9: 1-19
The young boy saw the Temple Guard coming and dodged down an alleyway, hiding behind a pig pen. The foul odor of the forbidden animals filled his nostrils, but he made no sound. He prayed in his mind for the guard to pass by him so he could carry on with his mission. He heard the clanking of their swords and the tramp of their leather sandals, marching in time step with each other, growing louder as they neared his hiding place. Luckily for him, the object of their mission was not a small Jewish boy hiding behind swine.
When they had passed, Joseph came out of his hiding spot and continued through Damascus, eyes always wary of those around him, suspicious of every one. His father had warned him against being caught; his mother had refused to allow him to be the messenger. He had insisted on volunteering anyway. He was told by David, the leader of the Jews in Damascus who believed the Nazorean was the messiah, to go to all the believers and warn them.
He turned the corner onto the first street. He paused at the door of the second house. He rapped lightly, and it was instantly opened by a girl his own age, Rebecca. She pulled him into the darkened house. All the shutters had not been opened yet to the fresh air and the light of the day. There was a feeling of tension in the house also that the sensitive boy picked up on. The shutters were still closed to keep out more than just the night air. The prying eyes of neighbors were dangerous these days.
Saul had come to Damascus. Saul, the man who had written orders from the High Priest Caiaphas, had come to root out the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. He had been to the other villages and towns. One of the original followers of Jesus, a man named Stephen, had actually been stoned to death days before because of this Saul. Followers of Jesus had been dragged from their houses in other places and beaten in the full public view of others, a warning to those Jews who disobeyed the High Priest's orders and openly professed their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Messiah. This threat was suddenly very real to those in Damascus. They, too, could end up like Stephen with the dreaded and powerful Saul in their town.
"Who is it, Rebecca?" came a whispered female voice, the fear obvious in her tone.
"Not to worry, Mother," Rebecca quickly replied, leading Joseph deeper into the house. "It is only Joseph."
The relieved mother, grandmother, and sisters came from the adjoining women's sleeping chamber into the family living area where the children now stood. Ananias, the girl's father, joined them from the food preparation area. They now gathered around the boy, ready to listen to what he had to say.
Now that he was safely off the streets and in a believer's home, Joseph puffed up with the importance of the knowledge that he had brought safely to them. He cleared his throat and stood a little taller to deliver his message. "Saul has come to Damascus, as we knew he would. The strange part is that he appears to be blind. He is in the house of Judas. The believers in town do not know what to do, other than to keep hidden until the Master of the Universe reveals to us what He wants. We are to pray to Jesus to intercede for us and keep us safe."
Ananias frowned momentarily over the message Joseph had repeated. The women clasped their hands and looked to him for answers. Sensing their uneasiness, Ananias changed his face, allowing one of his peaceful, beautiful smiles to wash over them all like a blessing. "Of course this is what we will do," he began. "This prayer will help the Master and His blessed Son to know we are sincere and wish nothing but to do their will. Joseph, you have delivered your message well. You must be off now to Philip the butcher and his family to again pass on your message."
Pride swelled the young man, and he took leave of the family to continue to the rest of the believers in the city.
Meanwhile, Ananias went to the shutters and began to open them. His wife Anne began to protest this but he stopped her comments with another of his wonderful smiles and a wave of his hand. "We must not be children of the dark," he told her. "We have seen the light of the Messiah. Closed shutters and hiding in the dark will not be enough to protect us from the will of the Creator. Be brave, like Jesus was brave when he accepted the cross of his crucifixion."
They went about the rest of their day as normally as they possibly could. Ananias was a scribe and several people came to the house to have various papers written for them. Two fathers came in to have their agreement for their children's engagement written down. Along with the money they gave him, they also shared a bottle of wine, drinking to the health and fertility of the young people. The next visitor was an old woman who wished to write to her brother in Rome about the death of her husband. Ananias did not charge the widow the usual 15 mites for the letter and he even charged her less than the amount needed to send the letter to Rome, making up the actual cost with the money he had earned from the fathers. By the end of the day, he had made two dinars, which he put in the money bag behind a loose stone in the corner of his sleeping room.
Before the sun set on this day of preparation and the family sat down to their Sabbath meal, Ananias went to the well behind their house. He pulled a clean bucket up, said his ritual washing prayers, and washed his hands and face. He used some of the precious soap to try and get the smudges of ink from off of his hands and fingers. It never seemed to come completely out of the depths of the crevices in his hands, though. He sighed and scrubbed anyway, trying to remove the soil from his work as preparation for the day of rest.
The meal was roasted chicken, bread, and various vegetables, a meal fit for a king, especially a Sabbath king. When the meal was over and the last prayers had been said, the two eldest daughters sang some songs and the youngest told a story. Ananias finally recited the night prayers and the family went to bed.
Ananias and Anne lay down on their respective sleeping mattresses. Soon Anne's breathing became slow and steady. Ananias tossed and turned for a long time. His thoughts kept returning to Saul, but he could not overcome his fear and doubt. He finally fell into a fitful sleep, waking several times in the dark of night.
During the night, Ananias had a dream. It disturbed him so much that he woke before dawn, his skin cold and clammy in the warm room. He refused to acknowledge the dream, but it would not let him fall back asleep. For the entire day he seemed preoccupied as he went about his work. Anne, however, could not get a straight answer from him about what was bothering him. He would only claim to not sleeping well and assured her he would be better the next day after a good night's sleep.
However, that night he had the exact same dream. He again woke up in the pre-dawn hours with clammy skin and a dream he would not acknowledge to himself or to his wife. He did confess to Anne that day that he was being kept up by a dream. Anne reminded him that the Master of the Universe often spoke to prophets and the elders in dreams.
"If you have this dream again," she cautioned before they lay down for the night, "you must listen to what He is telling you."
Despite another weary day, Ananias was reluctant to go to bed that night. "You do not know that a dream can come from the Master of the Universe," he told her. "This could easily be a dream from Beelzebub."
"I suppose that is true, but you are no weak fool who can be swayed to the Evil One's ways by a mere dream. What was the dream about?" However, he would not share with her, so she shrugged and lay down.
When the first cock crowed announcing the coming of day, Ananias sat straight up. "No, Master," he said to the dark room. "Do not ask me your servant to face such danger."
This should have awakened Anne, but she slept on peacefully and undisturbed at his side.
The conversation continued. "Master, he means to kill those of us who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Why would I face the man who means to kill me?" He paused in this one sided conversation as if listening to a voice answer him. He continued to argue. "Master, I am not a brave man or a strong one. I have daughters and a wife. Who will care for their future if...?" He again paused. Then he let out a great sigh. "Your way is difficult, Creator of all things. Yet if this is what you ask of me, then I must do it."
At this last line, Anne finally woke up, realizing in her sleepiness that her husband was sitting up and talking to someone. Fear clenched her belly as she too sat up to face the danger with her husband. Yet she could see no one in the dim room. She looked at Ananias and, though in the pale light of dawn, she could see his eyes open, she realized he was not looking at anything in the room. She reached out to touch him. His skin was icy cold despite the warmth of the summer night. Her touch seemed to break the spell, and he recognized her and their room.
"Ananias! What is wrong?" she began.
"There is so much wrong, wife, but I am about to fix it." He got up from the mat and went out to the well in back to wash. Anne followed him.
"What does this mean, husband?"
"It was my dream again. This time, Anne, I know I have had a vision from the Master of the Universe." He began to splash the cold well water onto his face and neck. He dried them with the towel there and looked at his wife of sixteen years who waited patiently for the rest of the story. "The Master wants me to go to Saul."
"What?" Anne could barely squeak out that one word through the fear, dismay, and shock that his statement caused her.
"I know," he chuckled, "I felt the same way, too, when I realized what the Master was asking me to do."
Finally finding her voice, Anne started, "No! You cannot go to the very man who has come here to destroy us. That is insane. You have been visited by a demon, not the Master."
He tenderly reached out and cupped her head in his hands. "Wife, it was no demon, but the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He spoke to me as I speak to you now, with a voice as soft and clear as water over the rocks but as firm and insistent as the flow of water against those same rocks. Whatever my fate will be is in the hands of the one who gave me the life I have."
She could see his eyes and the firm set of his jaw, and she could tell that there was no way to dissuade him. Her heart dropped and her shoulders sagged. Despair washed over her like the water he had invoked. She broke his grasp on her and turned away, thinking she wanted to cry. No tears came to her eyes though.
"I must go," he said to her back. He took his cloak from off of the hook, covered himself with it, and began to let himself out the front door. Finally, she turned toward him to argue again. Their eyes met, his hand on the door, ready to leave.
"Are you not afraid?" she finally whispered.
"Of course, I'd be a fool not to be afraid." He let his hand drop away from the door and turned to face her.
"Then why are you leaving us? Why are you abandoning the girls and me? For you will surely die when Saul realizes you follow Jesus of Nazareth."
"It is hard to explain. These last two days I had the dream with the voice asking me to go. I was afraid and said no. But during the daylight hours, I could focus on nothing. I made mistakes. I only heard pieces of what people said to me. The air I moved through seemed thick and my movements were sluggish. But tonight, when I again dreamed the dream, I changed and said yes. Now I feel more alert than I have ever felt and my sluggishness is gone. In my heart, I know I am doing the will of the Master of the Universe. I must proclaim his Son, Jesus, to be the Christ to this Saul. I don't know what will happen or what I will say, but I believe that what I need will be given to me by Jesus." Here he paused and hugged his wife. He continued, "Pray for me." He left out the door.
It was with a light-hearted tread that he walked through the streets of Damascus. He knew death waited for him at the house where Saul was staying, but the day was soft and beautiful and he could not resist whistling as he walked on.
The walk did not take long, and he and his whistling stopped when he was two houses down from the house of Judas. He had felt brave walking over to the house, but now that he was here, his doubts and fears returned. He felt his palms begin to sweat and perspiration broke out on his upper lip and forehead. He closed his eyes and prayed silently, "I turn my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and the earth." Still sweating, but braver now, he continued to the door of the house and knocked.
As he waited for the door to open, he remembered Daniel, put in with the lions. He remembered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who faced the fiery furnace and were saved by the Son of God. The door opened. A servant girl politely asked his business.
He lifted his chin and straightened his back. "I have come to see Saul," he proclaimed with no tremble in his voice. "I am a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, one of those whom he has come to find. The Lord of All has sent me to speak with him."
Her eyes flew wide and her mouth formed a soundless "O", but she opened the door wider for him. He took a deep breath and went to face his lion.
He found Saul in the common room, his eyes wide open and seeing nothing. Ananias felt the thrill of fear course through his body, but unlike any time before, he also felt a joyous power and uplifting that could only come from the Holy One. This power gave him the confidence to lay his hands on either side of Saul's head. He said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Scales fell off the lion's eyes, and Saul could see Ananias. Ananias bravely faced the lion, thinking, "Do with me, Lord, what you will." Instead of attacking, the man who came to destroy the followers of Jesus of Nazareth bowed in submission at Ananias' feet.