WHAT MAKES ANANIAS and Sapphira’s wrong doing so grave to be punished with instant death? Perhaps they were found guilty of lying. Peter lied, in fact, in more annoying circumstances, yet the promise of him being the rock on which the Church will be built was never taken away. Peter had lied to ever being with Christ. In today’s drama, he would have put it simply as “ Jesus of Naza – what? Is he tall or short? Is he dark or fair? Anyways, I don’t know him and do not want to”. Perhaps lies, in his case was seen as a venial sin and can be pardoned, but maybe the conspiracy to lie is a mortal sin deserving of eternal death. Ananias and Sapphira conspired to lie to Peter (a man once caught lying too). Perhaps their sin of lying was aggravated by the attached conspiracy. Abraham and Sarah conspired to lie to Pharaoh, yet he went ahead to become the father of all nations. Abraham had pleaded with his wife to act as his sister so that he could “fare well” and his life be “spared” in Egypt, where he had gone to seek a greener pasture. He even played the trick to the extent of giving out his “sister” in “marriage” to Pharaoh. Who does that?Also, Jacob conspired with his mother to rob his brother of their father’s final blessing. He lied repeatedly, putting up an act that suggested that it is fine to reap blessing with trickery. By all human standards, the act is despicable, yet he was the fulfillment of the promised nation –Israel.Shiprah and Puah conspired with the Hebrew women to lie to Pharaoh. Pharaoh had engaged them to help decimate the Hebrews by killing their male children at delivery, but they had done otherwise for the fear of God. When Pharaoh asked why they had defied his order, they simply lied, “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives”. Of course, we can applaud their prudence and ingenuity. It will be hard for any man to condemn a conspiracy to do what we can all consider to be fair, and God did not think differently, he “dealt well with the midwives”. If conspiring to lie isn’t such a big deal, then why were Ananias and Sapphira punished with death?

To consider this case, it will be helpful to look at what could have prompted them to the action. The case cannot be handled in isolation. Barnabas, another Christian brother in the early Church had just sold his land and brought the whole proceeds to Peter. Rightly put, he dropped it at the feet of the Church. It was a time that the Church was growing in size, and like every vegetative mission, people will look up to the Church for both earthly and celestial salvation. As much as the members of the early church were seeking heavenly salvation, their needs for material support cannot be overlooked. Barnabas decided to sell off his landed property. He must have considered how much to remit to the Apostles from his money, but he did not choose to give a fraction of it. He gave everything. For him, at that time, giving everything was the right thing to do to encourage the increasing Christian folks. Before I will be construed to be preaching a gospel of donating all our earnings to the Church, Barnabas donation to the Church was not judged by the size of the donation, but by his motive. His motive was basically for encouragement in a bid to advance the salvation of souls. By that very act, viewing it through the prism of our world today (and even 2000 years ago), Barnabas is a “big man”. A generous man to a fault! For those that are not used to our local language coinage, in this part of the world, the phrase “big man” has nothing to do with size. It is a special title only conferred on people the society sees as a figure of influence. The status of a “big man” comes with getting to be heard and considered first. The adjective “big” is used to quantify the size of influence and respect that follow any personality that have been conferred with that status.  Their words and actions stamp authority. The action of Barnabas (the new big man in town) was expected to set a standard for giving to the Church. It was an action that would have endeared the Apostles as well as the whole Church to him. The action must have elevated his status from one of the familiar faces in the church to a prominent leader to emulate. That is what I think, and I guess, Ananias and Sapphira thought that too. So, again, how did Ananias and his wife have it all wrong?

I will articulate what killed Ananias and Sapphira in the following sub-heading:

1.            The Motive

2.            Their confusion of Philanthropy for Charity

3.            Conspiracy to deceive God

These are the common practices of people who will stop at nothing to be seen and perceived as “big men”.

1. The motive

While Barnabas did his bit for the Church for the right motives, Ananias and Sapphira did theirs for ulterior motives. Barnabas displayed that the virtue of giving (generosity) requires the right desire and the right reason. Ananias and Sapphira acted viciously by doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Their motive was not to be co-responsible with the Apostles in the mission of salvation of souls; they were only interested in currying favour from the Apostles and the Church members. “If Barnabas could do it, of course on merit, to get enrolled on the honour list of big men, we too can act our way to the list”, they must have thought to themselves. At the point of conception of the idea, their desire was questionable. Their desire was never to encourage the Christian folks, but to bloat their ego. They were never going to emulate Barnabas, but to set a precedence of feigned generosity – a conspiracy to mock the virtue of generosity. Their act was to lay a bad foundation of giving, which could derail the mission of the Church – that is to give grudgingly. Their desire was to become influential; probably to get to sit in the councils (Parish Pastoral Council or Parish Laity Council in today’s configuration), get to be seen as the man of the people, and equal in virtue with Barnabas. Rather than find the use of their charism in the Church, they decided to act in pure envy of Barnabas gifts. The desires and motives were all about themselves. They did not care about God, His Apostles or the needy. They only cared about themselves!

According to the doctrine of the Church, we have two capital sins committed here. They acted in pride, thinking about themselves only even at the critical formation of the Church. Also, their actions reek of envy for the charism of Barnabas.

2. Their confusion of Philanthropy for Charity

In his book, “Life is worth living”, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, made an illustration of the difference between charity and philanthropy and I will like to quote him. “ The difference between charity and philanthropy can be illustrated by a house. On the second floor live those with some superfluities; on the first floor live those who lack necessities. Philanthropy will leave the second floor and go down to the poor to supply their needs. But after it has done that, it returns to the comfort and maybe luxuries of its own floor. This is commendable and necessary, but it is not perfect love. St Paul said that if he distributed all his goods to the poor and lacked charity or love of God, it would profit him nothing for eternal salvation. In true Divine love, those who have passed over to those who have not, never again come back. They stay their until the needy have been relieved of their sorrow, their pain, or their poverty, just as the model and inspiration, Our Blessed Lord, came down to this earth, crossed from the line of innocence over to the line of sinners, stayed with them, suffered with them, until He finally redeemed them”.

-To be continued

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