Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” John 20:21
The Book of Acts and the Early Ecclesia—Part Ten
We Can’t Fool God
A man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a 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 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? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about here hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much. And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things. Acts 5: 1-11
Good morning Prayer Team!
We are all familiar with the phrase, “You can fool some of the people some of the time.” That is a true statement. So is this one: “You can’t fool all the people all the time.” And so is this one: “You can’t fool God at any time.”
Today’s Scripture passage from Acts 5: 1-11, tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife who sold a field and kept some of the proceeds for themselves. They died. This story comes immediately after the story of Barnabas, told at the end of Acts 4, which mentions how Barnabas sold a field and laid all the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles. In contrast, Ananias and Sapphira, when they sold their property, decided to keep some of the proceeds for themselves. Peter confronted Ananias about his deceiving of the Holy Spirit, telling him “You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4). When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. (5:5) When Sapphira came home three hours later, she didn’t find her husband but found Peter in her home. Imagine her shock when Peter told her that the same men who were there to bury her husband were also there to bury her. She died immediately.
So, what is the lesson to be take away from this passage? Again, most people will dismiss this passage, thinking, “How can I be expected to give away everything I have?” The passage is dismissed as from a long-gone era of the church.
There are two lessons that can be taken from this passage. First, there are expectations from those who belong to the Ecclesia. Belonging to the Ecclesia is a voluntary thing. We are not forced to be Christians. But if one chooses to belong, there are expectations. At the time Acts was written, the expectation of the Ecclesia was that everyone was going to pool ALL of their resources together, giving up all private property for the good of the Ecclesia. This insured that everyone who was part of the Ecclesia had their basic needs provided for. The Ecclesia also went outside itself to provide for people who were sick or in need. No one held anything back. As you see, when Ananias and Sapphira held back, they died.
In modern times, there are also expectations on those who belong to the Ecclesia. There is an expectation of participation. There is an expectation of contribution. There is still an expectation that the Ecclesia will help its members and will go outside of itself to help people at large who are hungry and in need. Yes, this is still an expectation! We are not just churches of programs for members but we are supposed to be churches of charity, which means that we are to have excess of what we need to survive. We are to have excess so that we can generously give to those in need. This is God’s expectation for His Church, to give to those who are in need. And so it is God’s expectation for the members of the Ecclesia that they be generous with what they have so that the Ecclesia can generously help others. I would venture to say that it is not God’s expectation for us to have absolutely nothing to call our own, but to be generous with what we have by giving a large portion of it back for the work of the Ecclesia. It is also His expectation, I believe, that the Ecclesia should take its excess and invest it into properties and endowments but to give generously to those who are in need.
The second lesson from today’s passage is that we can lie to one another but we can’t lie to God when it comes to generosity. No priest (at least I don’t there is one) is going to ask his parishioners to bring their W-2 form to church and tell them how much he thinks they are capable of giving. What we give is a personal choice. It’s actually a spiritual choice. We know, intrinsically, whether we can give more. We know, intrinsically, what our priorities are. We know if we fritter money away. We can fool people, tell them how generous we are. But we can’t fool God. God knows everything. He knows who is being generous and who is being stingy. He knows those who are putting forth a lot and those who are holding back.
Imagine the scene of Ananias and Sapphira with Peter, but instead of Peter, put Jesus in his spot. Instead of Ananias and Sapphira, put yourself in that spot. And instead of a home, put yourself at the gates of heaven at the end of your life. As Jesus greets you, will He say “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been generous and now come and receive your reward”? Or will He say “You have lied to men, but you cannot lie to God. Why did you keep so much for yourself?”
I don’t write this with judgment on anyone, if anything, I’ll judge myself. I know that I can do more. I want to be remembered by God as a generous person. I want God to be generous with His forgiveness and mercy towards me. So, if I hope for an expect God to be generous with me, then I must be generous with others.
Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments! His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house; and his righteousness endures forever. Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the Lord is gracious, merciful and righteous. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of evil tiding; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady, he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire on his adversaries. He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked man comes to naught. Psalm 112
Generosity is a lifelong challenge for each of us, but how we meet that challenge will have a large influence in God’s generosity of forgiveness and mercy to each of us. We can fool one another, but we can’t fool Him. He knows if we are giving our all or holding back. So be generous with others, so that He will be generous with you!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
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