Thursday, 21 August 2014

Lie against the Holy Spirit: Case of Ananias and Sapphira

Acts 5:1-11
Anyone who reads the passage is immediately aware of the “sin” of Ananias and Sapphira. That is, in Peter’s words they ‘lied to the Holy Spirit’. And it is no surprise that in the Gospel of Luke that we see that “sin” against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Luke 12:10). And we could judge from words of Peter that the very ‘lie’ against the Holy Spirit could be reason enough for their punishment. But, if we relate the lying only to the level of deception for money, I think we are trivializing the judgment that befell them. The judgment goes beyond that, it is; ‘against the Holy Spirit’ that the whole action is centered. Before we come to this event, we read, that the whole community “were of one heart and soul … everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32). Following this we see that Barnabas, who was also part of the community, brings to the apostles the proceedings of the sale of his property in its entirety. This was the context in which the fateful Ananias and Sapphira event takes place. Therefore, the whole event is centered around the community that was of ‘one heart and soul’. This community was witnessing to the “resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33), through the power of the Holy Spirit. Against this community that was functioning in and through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the action of Ananias and Sapphira should be judged.

In this context of Acts-community, Holy Spirit was not yet understood in terms of “Trinity” by the community (“Trinity” or Trinitarian theological construct comes only during the Church councils during the 4th century[1]). For the early community, Holy Spirit is the “promise” (Acts 1: 4-5) and ‘power … to witness,’ (Acts 1: 7-8) about the resurrected Jesus Christ to the world. This community was the very presence of Holy Spirit, as Zizek explains the Holy Spirit as, “community of believers linked by agape.”[2] This community is the living presence of God’s spirit as testimony to the world. This, presence of God, is characterized by the words of Jesus, as saying, “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20). This is the assurance of the presence of God in Spirit with the community that gathers in the name of Jesus. But, what kind of community holds this presence of God.

For Jesus, a community that can hold the presence of God is the one that holds no hierarchy, or even to the point, that it even reverses and nullifies it. Jesus said “whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mk 10:44ff; Lk 13; Mt 19). And moreover, Jesus’ call to the disciples is a radical one where he says “If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Lk 14:25-27). This call is not just leave his relatives (father, mother, wife, children, … )  but “hate” them. We could immediately sense that, this is the most scandalous saying of Jesus to his disciples. Jesus enacts this saying by asking “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” (Mt 12:48). But, this scandalous saying of ‘hating’, father, mother, wife and so on, as Zizek understands, is the real call for a community, which is “the core of democracy”[3], which negates power structure or hierarchy within the community of believers. These words are not be naïvely understood, that we should ‘hate’ our family, but we should ‘hate’ any kind of power construct that tries to impose hierarchy within the community. And only this community which is free of hierarchy and power struggles is an ideal community which generates ‘one heart and soul’ which paves way for the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It is against this view of Holy Spirit-filled-community that the event of Ananias and Sapphira needs to be read. It is here the ‘sin’ of Ananias and Sapphira becomes evident, that is; their deception disturbs the circle of community, by introducing the false humility and deception, thereby, gaining honour within the circle, and introducing hierarchy. They are not only trying to gain honour within the circle ‘greater honour than they deserved’[4]. Through their ‘hidden’ wealth they bring in another disruption of “hierarchy”. Ananias and Sapphira are now above the circle of egal by deceiving certain wealth from the community, thus subversively raising their position above others. This subversion of Ananias and Sapphira is, only seem to give to the community, while taking even more both in Honour and in Hierarchy above others, which is detestable and it disrupts the circle of the Holy Spirit community. And it is for that disruption they are removed from the circle.

And coming to the present day, the act of ‘giving’ to the church in various ways has become an exercise in extravaganza. Whoever gives the more, is honoured more and vice versa; and forgotten or those names which gives less in comparison to those who give ‘more’. This exercise of ‘giving’ and ‘donating’ for “God” which every church tries to promote by introducing various projects, right from selling DVD’s to building mega-churches, which or “innocent” ways of disrupting the circle of Holy Spirit community. Appallingly the church even preaches that whoever gives more ‘will be blessed more’. This understanding of giving as means of receiving more than others, by the way of giving ‘more’ is the disruption of the idea of benevolence and giving to the community. The blasphemy of preaching “whoever gives more receives more” is totally against the Holy Spirit community, which is the unforgivable ‘sin’. Even as Jesus witnessed those who give more (not everything) gave from their abundance, while those who gave little gave everything. This false understanding of giving to receive more is “grave” danger to the Holy Spirit community, which brings in total disruption to the community, by introducing hierarchy.  This hierarchy based understanding of benevolence and giving is the ‘sin’ against the Holy Spirit, which was judged so severely, in the life of Ananias and Sapphira.

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