To modern listeners the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is particularly difficult: with a casual smiting for a seemingly bad-call about money? Would first century followers of the Way, living in first century Palestine, have seen this little story very differently? They were influenced by Greco-Roman culture; due to this they would not have seen this as a historical account of what exactly happened within this moment.
They would have known well the unwritten laws around oath giving, and seen the death of Ananias and Sapphira in the context of ancient comedy, with them both sealing their own fate rather than God being unjustly vengeful: they would have seen it as The Legend of Ananias and Sapphira: A comedic account of what happens when you put God to the test.
Because of this I think it appropriate to re-write this story as a parable for the modern reader. I have taken some poetic licence, emphasising the aspects of the story that modern readers may not pick up on.
The Legend of Ananias and Sapphira: A comedic account of what happens when you put God to the test.
There once lived a treasure hunting couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They lived on the Greek island of Cyprus, and were attracted to the Biblical heritage that could be dug up from the depths of the ocean. They spent their days reading the ancient manuscripts found on the island, digging and diving wherever they believed treasure could be found.
One day on their adventures they came across another treasure hunting group: this group were similar to them (they also were treasure hunters) but at the same time, they had something so very different. These treasure hunters called themselves followers of the Way; and what seemed strange was they hunted with different motives, they seemed to have a hidden wealth that no one really talked about, but was evident through the Way no one was without need.
Quickly Sapphira (the more feisty of the two) struck up a friendship with this wayward group. Weeks passed with Ananias and Sapphira becoming more and more a part of the life and adventure of this little group. When Ananias, encouraged (some may say pushed) by his wife Sapphira, asked Peter: "Pete, what is it about you guys? What is it that I must do to have this seeming endless wealth that you all seem to possess?"
"I'm surprised that you haven't yet heard!" exclaimed Peter. "Why has no one yet told you! There is a treasure you see, deep in the cove, this is a treasure that never runs out."
Ananias asked excitedly "What must I do to claim myself part of this treasure?"
Peter said, "You must swim, swim out until you can no longer see the beach, once far enough out you will come across what looks like a pool of light deep in the ocean, then you swim down."
Ananias almost giddy with excitement asked, "When can I go?"
"I will take you whenever you want; only know that you must not take more than you need. If you attempt to take more than you need, you will become tired, if then you keep trying to bring more back than you need, you will surely become tired and die." Ananias looked serious as he said, "No, I would only take what is needed for me and my wife to live, we just want to be followers of the Way."
With joy and excitement Ananias rushed home to tell his wife all that Peter had just told him. "Sapphira, Sapphira! You must hear this. I went to Peter, as you insisted and he told me. He talked of a treasure that has never run dry, and the exact spot that you must go to collect it. He warned me though, not to be greedy and attempt to take more than I can carry, for I would sink and drown."
Sapphira looked at him, her eyes were lost with what seemed like images of riches undiscovered: "We will be rich," she said.
The next day Peter, as promised, took both Ananias and Sapphira out to the spot along with another new member of the Way, Barnabas. They swam out, way further than Ananias had ever gone before on his treasure hunting expeditions, and out of nowhere came this bright light emanating out of the water. They swam faster knowing they were coming close. As they floated just above the light Peter said, "Here is the spot, we must all swim down and take some of the treasure, but you must not take more than need or else you may not be able to resurface."
Ananias look concerned at Sapphira: she didn't seem to be taking in anything that Peter was saying. She was fixated on the shiny light and prospect of the riches below.
Taking more than one needs
With those words ringing in their ears they dove, deep, deep down towards the light. It was as though looking into the headlights of an oncoming car, with nothing able to be seen that was in front of them. They were going deeper and deeper, and Ananias began to worry that he was not going to be able to go much deeper if he was going to get any treasure, when out of nowhere they arrived. Treasure lined the walls of what they could now see as a cave they had swum in to. Sapphira had already arrived and pulled out the bags that she had hidden from Peter, she signalled for Ananias to do the same.
Ananias quickly pulled out the bag hidden in his shorts, and in a hurry began loading treasure into his bag, gold, rubies, diamonds, filling the bag up as fast as he could.
When about halfway he noticed Barnabas. He had turned over many different gems until he found what he was looking for, one red sappier, and with that he swam up to find the air. Watching him swim up he noticed Peter who was slightly higher signalling to him.
Ananias knew what was wanted of him, he had always known what was wanted, for a split second he wanted to just drop the bag and come up with nothing, coming up with nothing felt as though it was the right, honourable, thing to do. As this crossed his mind he looked to his wife Sapphira, her head down stuffing more and more treasure into her bag.
Ananias knew in that moment that he would not resurface. It wasn't the fault of Peter, or Barnabas, or even the one who left this treasure here for them to find, in that moment Ananias knew that in greed he had sealed his own fate, and in greed he was being left to his greed.
This is the legend of Ananias and Sapphira: in their greed they attempted to cheat the system, and in their greed they were left with the consequences that they knew they had coming.
Tim Shallard is a co-director of Mosaic Workshop; a shared creative space in central Auckland. He also works as a barista at Crave Café—the most bad-ass café in Auckland. He is studying towards a Masters in Applied Theology at Carey Baptist College; and runs a poetry collective. His passions include coffee, community, and anything Morningside.
Tim Shallard's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-shallard.html