I’ve been reading recently in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. Chapter Five begins strangely, with the story of early Christian believers Ananias and Saphira.
At that time, believers were selling property, and giving the proceeds to a common purse that supported the community of believers. The preceding verses tell of Barnabas who sold a field, and contributed its selling price. Others were doing the same with their houses and lands.
Enter Ananias and Saphira who sold a piece of property, then agreed between themselves to keep back part of the money, bringing only the balance to the common purse. Did they have a particular project that would need a little capital? We don’t know, but my guess is that they were hedging their bets, committing themselves to this new belief and way of life, but keeping some seed money just in case it didn’t work out.
Either way, keeping part of the money would have been fine if they had not pretended. It seems they wanted to be seen as just as generous as those around them, to be known as another couple who gave all they had. So when Peter asked them about it, they lied.
Peter’s supernatural knowledge that Ananias and Saphira were lying is noteworthy. He was already being recognized as a man through whom God was performing miracles, and here is a miracle of another sort.
But the curious thing is the penalty exacted for this hypocrisy. They were both struck dead. A little over the top? I can’t think of anything I’ve done that is quite the same, but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy of at least the same order. Peter’s response to each was that they were lying not just to men, but to God. Yes, I’ve tried to fudge it with God before today. And God hasn’t struck me dead.
I’ve looked at a few commentaries, but the explanations don’t satisfy.
Here’s what I’ve come up with. It seems to me that this is just another example of God making it very clear, right from the get-go, that the Christian life is serious business. It doesn’t matter whether you have vaguely pleasant notions about God, whether you go to church occasionally, whether you’ve “accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior”. What matters is whether you’re all in, extravagantly committed to the exultant, severe, demanding, fulfilling journey of being a Jesus person.