Not more than three hours later, his wife, knowing nothing of what had happened, came in. Peter said, “Tell me, were you given this price for your field?”
“Yes,” she said, “that price.”
Peter responded, “What’s going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master? The men who buried your husband are at the door, and you’re next.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than she also fell down, dead. When the young men returned they found her body. They carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
By this time the whole church and, in fact, everyone who heard of these things had a healthy respect for God. They knew God was not to be trifled with.
Acts 5:1-10 (MSG)
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Recently, I read a book entitled Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (authored by former Anglican Bishop John Shelby Spong). The thrust of his argument was that modern scientific inquiry and wider, less tribalistic morality was causing us to rethink how we look at the Bible. There are two options. First, we take it literally, discounting science and worshipping a God who commands slaughter of many people throughout the text - fundamentalism. Or, we revere the Bible as a work full of rich symbolism and metaphor (which is likely the way that early Christians viewed at least the gospels) that leads us to an experience of the divine - a progressive approach.
As I read the above passage in my scripture study recently, I found myself thinking, "What the heck am I supposed to learn from this? That our God is the kind of God who will kill anyone who lies or fails to donate money to the church? Wow." It struck me that this was against the God of forgiveness and grace found in other parts of the New Testament and preached by many Christian churches today. Where is grace? Where is the forgiveness brought about by Jesus? Shouldn't these new Christians, of all people, have an understand of the radical grace given by their God? Or is grace a lie? Is this God a killer, or one who came "that you might have life, and have it abundantly"?
This morning, I read a passage in John. Here, Jesus said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work" (John 4:34). Wow. His food is doing God's work. Jesus is saying that he gets nourishment and sustenance from doing God's work, from serving others. Doing God's work, for Jesus, wasn't something draining or energy-consuming, but life-giving.
And, we are children of God just as much as Jesus. And our faith calls us to live Christlike lives. What if that means that we, too, are to find nourishment and sustenance in doing God's work? Doing God's work will fill us up and give us life abundant. Wow.
Then, this evening, I was listening to a talk by a local preacher. On a tangent, he mentioned this story in Acts 5. He didn't really teach on it, just acknowledge it's existence. A sidenote to a passage I'd just been reading and questioning.
And then I realized. Something spoke to my soul, and said - "This story isn't about actual death. It's not about Ananias and Sapphira literally falling to the ground, physically dead. Think metaphorically." So I thought.
Then - boom. They died not a physical death, but a spiritual death. The story isn't about God smiting people for lying or not sharing. This story is about where we get our food. Ananias and Sapphira weren't contributing to building up the Kingdom like they should have. In their case, it was a financial lapse. Since they didn't contribute the way they could and the way God had asked of them, a part of them died. They lost some of the abundant life, because they were not walking in the way lined by the Light of the World. They died spiritually.
The lesson for us, is that when we fail to contribute to the Kingdom of God in the ways that God has asked, in the ways that we are capable of, part of us dies. We walk away from God. That's death. The story isn't about God killing people, but about us failing to look at God. Ananias and Sapphira didn't believe that serving God would be all the food, all the nourishment, all the sustenance they needed. Either they were anxious about material needs, or they thought that worldly riches would satisfy the hunger in their hearts. Wrong. Only life with God can fill us up all the way. When we walk with God, we're fed. Inside and out. Our God is the Great Provider.
May we trust the Abundant Giver. May we look to this Holy Source to supply all our needs. May we be free of anxiety, knowing where our food comes from. May we follow Light and live to the fullest.