Ananias and Sapphira
In the book of Acts, we encounter a very strange and frightening story at the beginning of chapter 5. Two followers, named Ananias and Sapphira, sell a plot of land in order to turn the proceeds over to the apostles to bolster the early faith community. It is a generous action, at least at first. However, Ananias and Sapphira also decide to hold back some of the proceeds of the sale for themselves. Something that, I would assume, would be perfectly acceptable except for one thing: Ananias and Sapphira lie about what they have done.
The text does not tell us whether they decide to do this out of greed or pride. Perhaps they simply want recognition for what they have done. But the Holy Spirit is not fooled. Ananias and Sapphira drop dead where they stand when asked directly to tell the truth about their actions. They lie, and it costs them their lives.
Every parent who has ever read this story to their children has impressed upon them the importance of telling the truth. And they are right to do so. Every adult, I assume, who reads this story finds the punishment a little harsh. And yet, it also communicates how very serious this matter is.
And remember, our job is not to judge whether we like the message that comes from Scripture, but to try to learn from it and understand what God is communicating through these various stories.
And so, we wonder, what is there to learn and understand from a story where two followers of Jesus drop dead because of a lie?
Yesterday, Mike Young preached on the nature of love and how we must understand love–divine love–as the ground of creation. Love is the essence of the relationship amongst Father, Son, and Spirit. And from that love, we learn and practice love in our relationships with fellow created beings as well as with our Creator.
And this is not meant to be a generic type of love. It is, after all, the love that is the source of all that exists. This kind of love is pretty important stuff! In fact, it is a life-and-death kind of thing. With it, the entire cosmos is created and is given life. Without it, there can be no life–no generation of creation by God. It is necessary.
Mike also shared that this kind of love is “willing the other.” That definition fits perfectly with the idea of a generative love that exists as the ground of all of creation within the essence and persons of God. For God to “will the other” is for God to generate life amongst God’s very self in the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit. And, for God to “will the other” is for God to generate life in very specific ways: the antelope, the grass, the wind and seas, and man and woman.
(Also, I bet you’ve never heard a description of love that includes Trinitarian theology, “the Other”, and an antelope. But now you have!)
What Ananias and Sapphira failed to understand, and why they ended up losing their lives was not simply that they lied. It wasn’t even that they lied to other believers (that happens every day and people don’t drop dead from it–at least, not in my experience). It was because they didn’t understand and their actions directly opposed this kind of love. That to love like God is to “will the other.” And this kind of love is generative. It gives life. And without it, there can be no life.
For Ananias and Sapphira, the story could have gone so very differently. If they practiced the kind of love that is divine, that follows the example of God in creation and Jesus in his life and death, they could have even kept some of the money from their sale and given the majority or a percentage to the church. They could have left with their lives–having loved their community and loved God well. But they didn’t. They were carried out to be buried. Because this kind of love–the love that comes from God and that we as followers of Jesus are taught to have–is a matter of life and death.
And so, today, as followers of Jesus, I leave you with no threats or with the hint of the fires of Hades behind my words. I leave you with encouragement. Encouragement to find ways to practice this love. To will the other. For to do so is to bring life into this world. To your families, your friends, your colleagues, your acquaintances, your church family, and the complete stranger who lives just a few doors down–bring life and bring love this week.