Acts 5

As a kid I was a habitual truth teller. Sometimes to a fault.

Doubly gifted with “no filter” and “no indoor voice,” my uncanny observations about people around me in the grocery store were known to prompt a rapturous departure on the part of my family, leaving our fellow shoppers and clerks alike to wonder about the half-empty shopping cart, wheels still spinning, abandoned in the aisles. More than once in middle school I found myself at odds with my teachers when my classmates got into trouble—not because I was the offending party, but because I wanted to be sure my teachers were fully informed about all of the details of the situation. My high school friends learned not to give too much information about our shenanigans in advance for fear that doing so might lead to trouble for all of us (they were right to be so careful—more than once I confessed almost before the “crime” was committed). 

Somewhere along the line, I must have read the story of Ananias and Sapphira recorded in the first part of Acts 5. I might have closed the book, afraid of any resemblance between their story and my own. Had I been completely honest in everything I said that day? That week? Surely only the fear of God would inspire such an inscrutable commitment to truth that left a steady stream of fractured relationships in its wake. I am happy to report I have survived…thus far.

Encountering Ananias and Sapphira later in life, I realize that their story has become problematic—not because I believe any less in the power of truth (as a parent, I’m still waiting for the perfect moment to share this story with my own kids. I imagine it will happen during a “whodunnit” conversation while they both have fingers pointed at each another), but because I have often wondered why the storyteller felt it important to include these difficult details in the longer arc of the story of God’s work in the early church.
I must confess that my inclination when I bump up against a story like this is to close the book. End the chapter. But the reality is that we don’t often get that opportunity because real life is more complex. Some of our stories are complete in and of themselves, but others need a broader perspective for a better understanding. Reading this excerpt about Ananias and Sapphira without the context of the rest of Acts tempts us to explain away or oversimplify their story. As a follower of Jesus, I want to ask, “why was there no redemption for them in their moment of crisis?” But in their story—as in our own—we often do not get the privilege of knowing the end from the beginning.

After multiple readings, I still don’t know why Ananias and Sapphira had to die while the persecutors of the early church seem, for the most part, to have been able to operate unhindered. Maybe it is simply a lesson about honesty. A couple—faithful from all appearances—conspired together and protected themselves at the expense of the community around them, with dire consequences. Meanwhile, the religious establishment made no effort to hide how they felt about an upstart movement that posed a threat to their security. Could the moral of the story really be so simple? God doesn’t want Christians to cheat on their taxes in secret, but politicians can get away with murder as long as they are up front about it? Or maybe the lesson is about inward honesty more than just public opinion. Might the fateful couple have been spared if they had just been a little more honest with themselves?

However, we choose to interpret the story, there is a thread that I believe connects the story of Ananias and Sapphira with that of the first humans in the Garden of Eden, and extends likewise through the book of Revelation and into our own lives to beg the question: in whom will we ultimately place our trust? In God or in ourselves?

I wonder if the storyteller included these details as a reminder that the same God who raised Jesus from the grave was still at work in the early church in mysterious and miraculous ways. Could it be that—through both miracles and persecution—God was working in the lives of people who were willing to hope in something bigger than themselves? If that were true for the early church, could that also be true for you and me?

That, I believe, is a truth worth standing up for.

By Elia King

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