"A man named Ananias—his wife, Sapphira, conniving with him—sold a piece of land, secretly kept part of the price for himself, and then brought the rest to the apostles and made an offering."
Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver
The early Christians in Jerusalem "held all things in common." They gave to the church everything they had and then distributed resources to any who had need.
But it didn’t take long for there to be cracks in the system. When two members, Ananias and Sapphira, sold some land, Ananias brought an offering to the church, saying it represented the entire proceeds from the sale.
Peter, who obviously knew what real estate in Jerusalem was worth, knew that Ananias had held back. He had taken a cut larger than any real estate broker would command.
When Peter confronted Ananias with the truth in front of the whole church, Ananias dropped dead. The people who saw that were terrified. And who can blame them?
Sapphira came to the church a few hours later, not knowing what had happened to her husband. Perhaps she came to work on the Rummage Sale or perhaps she wanted to bask in the praise she felt certain to receive for the gift her husband had just brought to the church.
When Sapphira was greeted by Peter, he asked how much they had sold the land for. When Sapphira gave him a bogus figure, Peter knew instantly that she, too, was holding back.
Peter confronted her with the deception and, with that, Sapphira fell down dead herself! Then she was buried, in a most fitting way, with her husband in some real estate.
Does God zap people who don’t tell the truth about money and those who hold back? And if, as Samuel Johnson said, the prospect of being executed in the morning wonderfully concentrates the mind, can this story be used to concentrate our minds on the necessity for generous giving, lest we too be zapped?
But notice that the story does not say that Ananias and Sapphira were struck down by God. Rather, we are simply told they died.
I don’t believe God zaps people for holding back, but perhaps that is because God does not need to. We pronounce judgment on ourselves. If we refuse to respond to the needs around us, if we cannot be honest about money, if we do not respond to God’s generosity with some generosity of our own—that is, if we hold back—then something in us dies as surely as if our hearts stopped beating.
God, give me a generous heart, so that I might give generously.