The story of Sapphire and Ananias can be found in Acts 4:32-5:11
There is a video of me reading “The Price” from the book “For Such a Time as This: Stories of Women from the Bible, Retold for Girls” by Angie Smith and Illustrated by Breezy Brookshire on the Period Pastor Facebook Page.
This is a strange story. On first reading, it’s possible to think if you lie to God, you will die. Or if you lie to a church leader, you will die. I can assure you that’s not true, I get lied to frequently and no one has died in front of me. I’ve never seen anyone struck by lightning or had the church roof crash down on them because of their sins either. These things simply don’t happen. If they did, there wouldn’t be many people or church buildings left standing.
In my own life, I’ve never been part of a church that expected people to give all they had and share everything among each member. This sounds more like a convent to me. The only other time I’ve heard of a community like this is when it’s being called a cult and someone who escaped is being interviewed. Is it possible to live in this type of community without something going terribly wrong?
“The Price” doesn’t include Barnabas, who sold a piece of land and gave it to the community, but I think it is important to note. Barnabas gets a lot of praise for what he did. I wonder if Ananias and Sapphira were jealous of the attention he got. I wonder if they hoped to be the kind of people who could show their wealthy friends and neighbors how committed they were to this radical new way of living. I wonder if they were afraid to really give up everything in case this radical new way of living didn’t work out. I wonder if they worried that if they didn’t give something big the community wouldn’t be able to sustain the needs of everyone since there were probably people in the community who came to it with little money. I wonder if they didn’t trust the community leadership. I wonder if they weren’t content with the way things were. I wonder what would have happened if they told the truth about how much they sold the property for and said they were only willing to give a portion to the community. Would they be allowed to remain in the community? Would they be pressured to give all of the money? Would they have been chastised for lacking faith?
There are some who would wonder if this was really Sapphira’s choice or did she just go along with her husband. If they were struggling to meet the new communities expectation for giving all, maybe they were having a hard time breaking from the patriarchal roles in their marriage too. The community would have been based on equality between rich and poor and men and women. Would she have told the truth if she knew her husband had already been caught in the lie? Or would that only give her a chance to further lie about her own motives and blame her dead husband? Is status more important than truth telling? Did she believe she would be forgiven if she told the truth now?
And while I’m asking these questions about the community Sapphira and Ananias were part of, what is my own community of faith like? What are the expectations around gift giving? What happens when everyone knows about someone’s generosity? Is every gift valued not in terms of money but in terms of what it meant to the giver? Is there pressure to give in the same way someone else gives? Is truth more important than status? Are people content with what they have and what the community has together? Does generosity bring status? Or does generosity create a loving heart that other people hope to emulate? Is it hard to hear that someone else is generous in a way that you can not let yourself be? Is it hard to hear your sin named? Is it harder to forgive others or to forgive ourselves? Will we ever be content?
“The Women’s Bible Commentary” edited by Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley.
Amy-Jill Levine “Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginners Guide to Holy Week” pp.83-88 Is the story of the Widow’s Mite, which helped me to frame my thinking about what we give and how we accept gifts.
Some stewardship conferences are ringing my ears, mostly Stewardship Kaleidoscope, but I’m not sure I could pin point exactly what speaker/story that made a point to talk about why people give, and what makes them change their minds.