The posting thus far on this passage have focused on the fear and violence present in this story. Our modern, and perhaps liberal Quaker mindset is discomforted by this. And I find myself resisting other people’s resistance to this text. And I’m trying to unpack this somehow.
We very much want a clean cut peacenik of a Jesus. And while the spirit of Christ in me cries out against the violence and oppression in this world, I’m not altogether convinced that was the agenda of the historical Jesus and hence of his disciples. I know how hard the choice to uphold the peace testimony is for a white middle class North American — and I do a miserable job of it.
But that wasn’t the situation for the first Christians. It was closer to being like Nazi occupied France. And you aren’t a collaborator with Vichy. You are a fully active member of the resistance. And then you advocate to your fellow resisters — a course of non-violent action. If the Romans don’t crucify you your best friend may well slit your throat.
I do not believe that we have become more spiritually evolved and thereby grown out of their errors — because I know I haven’t. I believe they found themselves called to something that was well-nigh impossible and incredibly dangerous.
I’m also not entirely convinced the story of Ananias and Sapphira is historical. If it isn’t — or even if it is — what’s it doing here?
First, it qualifies the utopian vision. It shows us that these folks were human. And some made mistakes. And just maybe, by Luke’s day — this community of goods — of sharing and equality and mutual love — had grown into something a little bit more pragmatic and Luke was struggling to understand why his church wasn’t like their church even as he tried to witness to the faith he loved.
Second, there’s a parallel story in the book of Joshua. God has commanded the Israelites to go to battle to not keep any booty for themselves but rather to destroy it. This takes away two fundamental reasons for war — personal profit and military glory — both belong to God not to the tribal leaders. This battle was the battle for the Promised Land. One tribal leader holds back some silver. He is in fact a major family leader — in other words he was rich already. When it is found out God orders the death of the offending leader and his cohorts and the destruction of the silver.
How does this fit? Ananias was a landowner and therefore rich. He held back what was to be delivered to the poor. So he also dies. Instead of the community killing him on God’s behalf God acts directly — or alternately — a word from Peter kills with divine power without need for human instrument.
In either way — a new war for the Promised Land is taking place. But giving to the poor has replaced sacrifices on the altar. Indeed, the poor are the Promised Land and the priests of the temple and the apostles are the prophets and the warband leaders.
All of which assumes this connection with this connection with the entry into the Promised Land was in Luke’s mind as he wrote — for it is not explicit. I may be wrong.