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,[b] 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.
For the sake of brevity I could paraphrase today’s reading as ‘Pay up, or peg it!’… or could I?
To fully understand this passage we must read it in connection with the previous passage, in which Barnabas brings all he has and lays it at the Apostles’ feet. Nobody asked or told him to, it was a freewill offering, inspired by the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful witness, and what rejoicing there must have been when he did this.
Then along come Ananias and Sapphira – these two bring money to the Apostles but conspire to hold some of it back for themselves. Why? Could it be that they sought the acclaim that Barnabas had received, but didn’t want to sacrifice all their worldly wealth? Were they wanting to outwardly live up to Barnabas’ example but inwardly wanting the security of ‘filthy lucre’? Whatever their motives, it is clear that their trust in material things was greater than their trust in God. Their impulse to sell may well have come from God, but it was counteracted by an evil spirit of pride, avarice and ambition. The resulting sin, therefore, was far worse than the sin of not giving of their possessions in the first place, for Ananias (and Sapphira) were trying to serve both God and mammon. No wonder this sorry tale finds its way into the annals of the Early Church.
What can we learn from this? Well, let’s not try to outwardly live up to other people’s piety, but instead remember that our offerings (whether of devotion, time or money) are between God and us. And let us trust God that, if He leads us to offer something up, He will provide abundantly more than that which we may come to lack.
Lord of all good, our gifts we bring to Thee, use them Thy holy purpose to fulfil: tokens of love and pledges they shall be that our whole life is offered to Thy will.
Father, whose bounty all creation shows, Christ, by whose willing sacrifice we live, Spirit, from whom all life in fullness flows, to Thee with grateful hearts ourselves we give.
A. F. Bayly (1901-1984), R&S 404 vv 1, 3
Michael RJ Topple, Training for Ministry with the Scottish College