Saturday, February 07, 2009

Homily 12

Acts 4:36 - 5:16

And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus,

having land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.

And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet.

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?

"While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.

And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much."

Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."

Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.

And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch.

Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.

And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them.

Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.


I want to know so much more about Ananias here... did he explicitly state that he was giving all his proceeds, whilst secretly holding some back? Or was he punished for merely giving less than everything without duplicity?

Because Peter says that Ananias has lied, it's fair enough to assume that he did explicitly lie. Still, it would ease my mind if the passage said that outright.

I'm interested at how quickly the dead are buried-- is this Jewish custom? As soon as Ananias died he was buried. So quickly, in fact, that three hours later Peter could tell his wife of the grave.

The Church continues to grow through the healings of the apostles. There's an early hint at the beginning of relic-veneration here: even the shadow of Peter would heal the sick.


Chrysostom notes that the passage begins with a good example-- that of Barnabas performing a virtuous deed. Ananias' and Sapphira's deed, then, should be interpreted in light of Barnabas' norm.

He emphasizes that the sin was not in having personal property-- nobody compelled or forced Ananias and Sapphira to sell their land. The sin was in keeping for themselves what had been already consecrated to God:

He that has chosen to sell his goods and distribute them, and then withdraws them, is guilty of sacrilege... Ananias, having made the money sacred... afterwards secreted it. (77)

Why, Chrysostom says one might ask, didn't Peter admonish or correct Ananias? The answer is that one who had seen all that Ananias had seen-- who had witnessed the daily miracles, who knew personally the disciples of Jesus Christ himself-- and who yet tried to deceive the Holy Spirit, was already beyond hope:

As it is... the man himself is benefitted in regard that he is not left to advance further in wickendess. (77)

Chrysostom then returns to his old topic of swearing: "If those for lying suffered such things, what shall not the perjured suffer?" (79) Anyone in the habit of making oaths, he says, is bound eventually to break an oath. And perjury is a terrible sin.

We are not now generally punished as quickly as Ananias. This is all the "more reason to tremble." (79) When somebody has committed a wrong, they are in perpetual fear of eventual punishment. And punishment is indeed being stored up for the unrepentant. So what should we do?

Chrysostom gives the example of Joseph's brothers, who believed themselves guilty of his murder and eventually repented of it, believing their misfortune to be the result of their sin. And, by their repentance, they were forgiven.

In this manner then do thou also, when anything happens, say, We are verily guilty, because we have not obeyed Christ; because we have sworn; my much swearing, and my false swearing, has fallen upon my own head. Confess thou; since they also confessed, and were saved. (80)