SAPPHIRA (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.)

The Hebrew name Sapphira means the jewel, Sapphire. Sapphira is the women who fell down death at St. Peters feet for lying. The incident is narrated in chapter 5 of The Acts of the Apostles. But to understand the full implication of the event we need to go to the preceeding chapter 4. The chapter 4 among other things speak about the believers sharing their possessions. The text says,

The group of believers was one in mind and heart. No one said that any of his belongings was his own, but they all shared with one another everything they had. With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all. There was no one in the group who was in need. Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale, and hand it over to the apostles; and the money was distributed to each one according to his need (Acts 4, 32-35).

The Acts further has given a concrete example of Joseph, a Levite. The text says,

And so it was that Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means One who Encourages), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and handed it over to the apostles (Acts 4, 36-37).

This story of the first Christians tells us that they were practicing voluntary communism in the first Christian community. It was a God-centered Christian communism. Every Christian got according to his/her needs and nobody was in want. On the other hand, when some people like Joseph, the Levite sold a field he owned and handed over the entire sum of money to the apostles for common use. But nobody was forced to sell or bring their assets to the community. So it was not a forced communism. The Christians contributed to the community as the Spirit of God inspired them.

In this context Sapphira and her husband Ananias were inspired to do something for the Christian communism, which they enjoyed as members of the first Christian community. So they must have discussed the matter and agreed among themselves to sell some property belonging to them.

After selling their property they must have been enticed by the large amount of money they got. So with mutual agreement they decided to keep part of the money with themselves and give the remaining sum to the Apostles as the total amount, which they got from the selling of their property.

But when Ananias handed over the money to the Apostles, the Spirit of God was not deceived. Apostle Peter confronted both Ananias and Sapphira with their deception. The Acts gives the whole story.

But there was a man named Ananias, who with his wife Sapphira sold some property that belonged to them. But with his wifes agreement he kept part of the money for himself and handed the rest over to the apostles. Peter said to him, Ananias, why did you let Satan take control of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you received for the property? Before you sold the property, it belonged to you; and after you sold it, the money was yours. Why, then, did you decide to do such a thing? You have not lied to men - you have lied to God! As soon as Ananias heard this, he fell down dead; and all who heard about it were terrified. The young men came in, wrapped up his body, carried him out, and buried him (Acts 5, 1-6).

Thus after confronting Ananias first, Peter confronted his wife Sapphira when she came to the community three hours later. The Acts narrates the event,

About three hours later his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. Peter asked her, Tell me, was this the full amount you and your husband received for your property?

Yes, she answered, the full amount.

So Peter said to her, Why did you and your husband decide to put the Lords Spirit to the test? The man who buried your husband are now at the door, and they will carry you out too! At once she fell down at his feet and died. The young men came in and saw that she was dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband (Acts 5, 7-10).

As Peter has clarified to them both Sapphira and her husband Ananias were not bound by anyone or by any rule that they sell their land and gift the proceedings to the community. They sinned because they wanted to give the impression that they have given their all when, in fact, they have kept a part for themselves. As Herbert Lockyer says in All The Women Of The Bible, It was an effort to serve God and mammon. Theirs was the double mind the heart divided between the world and God (Page. 153).

Apostle Peter is clear in his accusation of Ananias and Sapphira, You have not lied to men you have lied to God! (Acts 5, 4). Why did you and your husband decide to put the Lords Spirit to the test? (Acts 4, 9).

Peters swift and severe judgment and the consequent sudden death of Ananias and of his wife Sapphira must have deeply affected the early Christian community. The Acts says, The whole Church and all the others who heard of this were terrified (Acts 5,11). As Herbert Lockyer says in his above quoted book, the first Christian community (and we too) got a lesson that, Avarice, fraud, deceit, lying, false pretensions, must be guarded against. Honour in the Church cannot be bought by money (P.155). (contact the author: यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए. )

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