But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. Acts 5:1-6 ESV
I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
I will make people more rare than fine gold,
and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger. Isaiah 13:11-13 ESV
Gardeners and farmers always have to be on the lookout for pests and diseases that can ruin an entire crop. The earlier they can detect something wrong, the more of their crop they can save by getting rid of what is hurting it. Good farmers walk through their crops with magnifying glasses to be able to see even very small insects or their eggs. They carry jars or plastic bags so that they can gather specimens to test what they find. They carry strips of cloth or flagging tape so that they can mark the plants that are infested, and also a notepad and pencil so they can write their findings down. Sometimes farmers also set traps for insects so they can catch them at times when they are not able to monitor their fields. They might use sticky paper or containers of water and molasses and dish soap. All of this work makes the farmer able to do what has to be done to protect the crops.
Today’s Bible reading tells the sad story of the way God’s judgment fell on Ananias. It might seem as if God was very harsh, but he wanted to protect his young church from the harm that sin would cause. Ananias was rich, and he sold one of his fields as other rich Christians had been doing. Then he kept some of the money for himself before he gave the rest to the apostles. Peter made it clear that Ananias was free to not sell his field and to keep it for himself. He was also free to keep some money for himself and to not give all of it to the church. Ananias’ sin was lying by saying he was giving everything when he really wasn’t. His wish for everyone to think he was better than he really was caused him to lie to God the Holy Spirit, and for that reason God caused him to fall down dead.
Sins of lying and of pride can hurt the whole church. These sins are dangerous because they make us start thinking that we can earn God’s love and blessing by the good things that we do. Sometimes people try to prove that they’re better than others, and instead of remembering that we are all sinners who need God’s forgiveness, we start lying and cheating and trying to make others look bad instead of loving and helping each other. Jesus died for these sins, too, and there is forgiveness for them, but he warns us to be very careful to not turn away from the love and grace he has for us. Jesus wants his church to be a place of forgiveness and care for all people, and he sends us his Holy Spirit to help us never trust our own work or cleverness but instead to keep trusting him for everything.
Dear Jesus, please help us to remember our need for your help and forgiveness every day, and to not fall into sins of lying and of pride. Amen.