Day 16: Word Watching
Adapted from Chapter 5 in The Message: (Yesterday, I made a serious mistake. Willimon did write about the Ananias story—I just did not read far enough in his book, so I feel I must confess the truth and my neglect!)
Dear Lord, When we read that the wife of Ananias was with the Apostles three hours later, but she knew nothing of what had happened, we feel uncomfortable. When Peter asks her how much they got for their fields, we almost want to warn her. When she lies, Peter says: “What’s going on here that you connived to conspire against the Spirit of the Master?” This seems a bit self-righteous from a man who denied Jesus three times. We have to dig deep to understand. It is difficult to overlook Peter’s flaws. We all fall short. We don’t want to deceive. Help us reflect truth with love and compassion.
How does study of the Scripture in a community of faith work? Last night was a great example. Mary Johnson’s comprehensive response to my less than thoughtful interpretation was gently corrective. Listen to Mary’s reflection:
Being raised in southern areas of the Bible Belt when young, I and most other kids went not only to Sunday School but also attended long adult worship services where we heard sermons on most everything. I remember acutely hearing a terrifying sermon when a child on your text used for Day 15. I have avoided this scripture ever since. The point of the preacher’s tirade was not subtle, but simply that if someone lied, (especially kids) God could and may well kill or eliminate him or her, just like Ananias. Needless to say, I became afraid of church, the bible, and many so called “Christians” for years after that. The up-side was when I did finally return to the church and Christianity many decades later, I had a passion for reading the bible myself to make sure I knew exactly what it really said so I could draw my own conclusions. I was surprised when I revisited this text much later in life that It does not say at all that God killed Ananias. Just that “he fell down dead” after hearing Peter’s words. Well, good lord, I may have passed out myself if Peter came after me like that about Satan and lying, etc. I imagine Peter could be a scary figure being a brawny muscular Fisherman who was known for a quick temper and strong emotions. Maybe Ananias had a bad heart . . .?”
I encourage you to read her entire email response—let me know if you need a copy. So my focus has changed. Can we see that how we say something—our tone and our righteous indignation can do more harm than good at times? Willimon struggles to make sense of this “harsh, severe, uncompromising”story. (Willimon, Acts, 1998, p. 54.) He posits, “The cost of not confronting our deceit over possessions is high—nothing less than the very death of our life together.” Here is where I am going to digress from him. Rather, I think there is another message here that Mary identifies. If Ananias and his wife are old and have weak hearts—Peter may need to look at his own “anger issues.” Willimon is spot-on when he says the people in Acts are not “a romanticized, idealized portrait. These are real people who are pulled in different directions by the same real tendencies which tug at us.” (55) How we act as a community of faith, and how we treat people will determine if the church in the twenty-first century is going to be God’s gift to the world or humanity’s selfish idol for itself.
Will we be careful with our words, especially if they are trying to reflect God’s ways, and how we express them?
Recap prayer: Dear Jesus, Help us to taste our words before we spit them out. Amen.