But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
~ Acts 5:1-11
If there's a more troubling New Testament passage, I can't immediately think of it.
At first blush, I'm likely to think about Peter in a not so generous way. You know, um, Peter...I realize Jesus put you in charge and all, but isn't this an abuse of power? I don't think THIS is what Jesus meant?
I mean, I can't picture Jesus causing someone to drop dead for their sin. Causing people to die wasn't really Jesus' thing.
So why does it seem to be Peter's? I mean, of all people, Peter, who certainly messed up a lot, could afford to show some grace here, right?
I'm guessing most people read this with a similar first reaction.
And maybe we are meant to be shocked.
It was a shocking time, after all.
I decided after many readings of this passage that the way to go wasn't to explain it away. I've heard some explanations before that do make sense to me: like it doesn't explicitly say in the text that Peter had God kill them. Or killed them himself. It says of both Ananias and Sapphira that they fell and died. Maybe the burden of their guilt and shame was too much to bear?
Maybe. Likely even.
So how great was their sin? Didn't anyone else ever hold back anything from giving to this early church?
Maybe, but I kind of doubt it.
So why did Luke think this story was so important to share? Whether he was embellishing it or not, there was a reason to tell it.
Maybe the reason had something to do with this:
Once upon a time there was a fledgling little community centered on love. Built around the promise of a Messiah who's death and resurrection gave them an understanding of a loving, compassionate God they hadn't understood before.
And this fledgling community centered in love, relied on each other in the face of forces that sought to destroy them.
All they had among them was love, hospitality, hope, trust, and their word (and the Word).
They had to be able to trust each other. They depended on each other for the Truth.
And the truth.
Maybe Luke wants us to know that a community centered on Christ cares for each other, shares with each other, and is always there for each other.
And when those things don't happen, the community is in danger.
Lord, help us to all care for each other, share with each other, trust each other, and be there for each other in truth and in love. Amen.