I’ve always found this passage troubling. Although Peter never says, “Die!” in the imperative sense, he does, it seems, work a miracle that produces the death of one (or two, depending on how you read it) people. Usually, his words and the exercise of his power was for healing—giving life, restoring life, securing life. Not taking life—that just seems to be inappropriate for an apostle.
The real question for us, though, isn’t why this happened but why this is included in the bible. I don’t think it’s because the author of Acts wants us to be afraid of Peter’s power. And, as much as it might be helpful during stewardship season, I don’t’ think it’s because God intends to kill us if we hold anything back. Instead, I think this passage is a dark reminder of a brilliant truth—that the early church community was so tightly held together that not even selfish deceit like this can find a hold in their community.
This weekend and next week, I’m taking part in the Sawyerville Day Camp—a project by which the Diocese of Alabama maintains a summer day camp experience for the children of Hale County. Last night, our first night together, one of the coordinators made a presentation on community. She stressed that we are all here in community together and, as a result, must take extra care to ensure that we don’t abuse our common space or life. It’s a good point. Yet, when she asked, “What is a Christian community?” a more powerful answer would have emphasized not the things we can do to jeopardize the community but the roles we play in making this community happen.
As the reading from Acts reminds us, Christian community isn’t just something that we maintain by picking up our trash, cleaning up our messes, and refilling the bathroom tissue dispenser when it runs out. Christian community is produced by what we share and by our willingness to actively share it. We have a role to play. We have a life to share. When we refuse to give everything we have to the greater good, we make it impossible for real community to develop.
In the early church, when the community was all that they had, such a poison pill could have killed the entire movement, But God wouldn’t allow that to happen. He wasn’t punishing the selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira as much as he was safeguarding the community itself. In order for a Christian community to exist, we must do more than just look out for the needs of others. We must be so totally invested in the common life that we give ourselves completely to the cause.