Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Depends On Expectations

In the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, there is the alarming story of Ananias and Sapphira, whole sold a piece of property for the good of the church, lied about the price, and were struck dead.  Well, alarming to us in the 21st C, anyway. It doesn't fit our picture of Jesus.  We might be able to shrug it off in the Old Testament, where similar things seem to have occurred from time to time, especially at pivot points and in crisis.  Yet there it is in the NT, right after the new church gets under weigh.

Oddly, it doesn't seem to have seriously alarmed the believers then.  That it gets mentioned at all tells us they thought the event dramatic, worth taking note of as a warning.  But it doesn't get mentioned again, and there is no hint that there are sudden defections or a downturn in converts.

I turn again to the clannish, tribal mentality of the people in NT Palestine, or indeed, just about anywhere in the world until quite recently in NW Europe and its colonies. In Middle Eastern tribes today, if you were too cheat the others thus, you might expect harsh reprisal.  Not always death, certainly, but our modern sense of individuality was not present in them. Cheating the tribe was very, very dangerous.

I have mentioned before the focus that Jesus puts on this change of allegiances, and sometimes even describes it as the reason he has come.  We are to leave our old loyalties, our old tribes and obligations, and become members of a new people.  The Jews of the time would have had a clearer idea of what that entailed than we do in our more individualistic age.


Retriever said...

I've always hated the story, and for precisely that reason know that there must be something in it that I need to learn, and something God is demanding that we change in ourselves now, not just a nasty "they got theirs" kinda cautionary tale.

Your comments on the story were excellent and really fleshed out the picture.

One thing I've pondered is that we modern American Christians tend to give in gratitude for good already received (ie: miraculous healing, or a promotion received after prayer, or a marriage restored, or a child born after years of infertility). Gratitude is good, yes, but it reflects our canny, crafty Jacob-like testing and wanting to get something for nothing. We receive a miracle and put an extra ten in the collection plate. Small potatoes.

All the revolting views (not unique to America) that success is a sign of God's favor and the like are part of a conditional giving. The rich give, it's true, but more like a tip to God rather than generously. I'd say that all of us are more like this couple than we might like to admit.

Heck! I go ballistic when my kids give away (unused) Christmas presents I gave them to Goodwill. My hurt pride and hurt feelings at what feels like a rejection stops me appreciating their view that better that some poor person get a nice thing that they will never use.

Maybe this punishment of cheating in the story was to differentiate the new community from the OT heroes and patriarchs who were notable for lying, cheating and tricking people (to advance their own interests and sometimes God's in the process).

Obviously, if you have a faith that is supposed to include everyone, you can't allow tricksters as these create distrust and division and won't be good advertisements for the faith. But the character of the individual members of the congregation matters hugely when it's an evangelical, universal faith.

james said...

This was still at a pivot point. The new church was still _getting_ under way. They hadn't hit persecution or welcomed the Gentiles yet.