Wednesday, June 07, 2006

a troubling incident: ananias and sapphira

Here is a troubling story from the days of the early church. Some people were selling their extra stuff (even plots of land) and donating the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem. One couple sold a piece of land and donated part of what they got, but represented it as the full price they got for their land.

Apparently they were doing this for appearance's sake - to look good. Peter rebukes the husband, and what happens next is shocking:
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
Acts 5.5
Now that's severe. Oh, the same thing happens to Ananias's wife. I find it hard to understand.

Peter says that by representing some of the money as though it were the full price, they were lying to God rather than to men. That is an astonishing concept -- that by doing something to make myself look good, I'm actually lying to God. Yow!

You know, as I read the passage, I find myself protesting Peter's judgment. Have you seen the movie Yentl? In it, a girl's father teaches her reading and scriptures but closes the curtains. She asks him, "Can't God see what you're doing, with or without the curtains?" He replies, "I'm OK with God seeing this; what I'm worried about is the neighbors."

In that context, I want to tell Peter, "Ananias and Sapphira know that God knows; what they're thinking about is the neighbors!" But looking at it again, I can see Peter knows they think it's about the neighbors; yet he corrects that impression by saying it's not just the neighbors; it's really God they're lying to.

So let's suppose Peter is speaking for God here, as I think he is. What does it mean?

Here is one half-baked interpretation. Say I'm trying to impress some people. Why am I trying to do that? Probably it's because I hope they'll make me feel good about myself. Like I'm an admirable and a good person. Like I'm really alive or something. When I'm doing that, I'm treating them as my gods. When Peter says they were lying to God, could it mean that in lying to their false gods (i.e., the neighbors), they were actually lying to the true God?

A frightening thought. So how about when I do things that make me look good to others, to give them an impression of me that's better than I really am? (Or if somebody has such an impression, to let them continue in that misapprehension, as in this case where
[X] has remained silent on at least two occasions when he has been publicly but erroneously referred to as "Dr. [X]"
Apparently that wasn't the only problem this guy had, but I don't want to have it at all.

May the Lord help us all to be people of integrity, trusting his "well done, good and faithful servant" to be enough.

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