Commentary on Acts 4:32-35
The Resurrection calls and enables us to perform powerful tangible acts that coincide with human need.
In the immediate literary context, Peter and John had been detained for preaching about how God has raised Jesus and for demonstrating the power of this reality by claiming to have healed a man in Jesus’ name (4:1-11). But they continued to preach boldly and to perform miracles, signs and wonders (dunameis, sēmeia, and terata) in the name of the resurrected Jesus (4:12-31). The apostles tangibly changed peoples’ lives as Jesus had done. The apostles imitated what Jesus before them had done — miracles, signs and wonders (2:22). The magnitude with which God’s presence and power is shown to be present in word and practice coincides with the spiritual transformation in the hearts and souls of those who heard and believed the resurrection news that God raised Jesus (1:10; 2:32).
At 4:36-5:11, immediately following our pericope, Luke (the author) provides the reader with both a positive and negative example of a communal practice, mandated by the needs of the community, of selling properties and sharing the proceeds for the benefit of the needy among them, verse 34. The positive example is about one man, Barnabas, who in accordance with the summary, sold his property and laid the proceeds by the apostles’ feet. The negative example is of a married couple who fail to live up to the expectation for communal sharing of properties. The consequence for the couple is grave, pun intended. Perhaps, one reason why Luke, the author, placed the two stories after the summary was to put flesh on the ideal; to show that the ideal had become a reality, but not in every case. And when the ideal failed to materialize, the consequences were miraculous and ugly.
Perhaps the story of Ananias and Sapphira metaphorically represents a dying community when we, one by one or two by two, choose self over community rather than self and community.
I do not support capital punishment, even when it is attributed to God. But I can champion the idea that our lives are inextricably linked; that if we do not demonstrate compassion for one another, crime and death lies at our doors.
The Resurrection was a relational event! God resurrected Jesus; Jesus did not resurrect himself. And because of what God did for the incarnated Jesus, we believe God can resurrect us from spiritual and physical death dealing situations now and beyond. God “resurrects” us not just for ourselves but for our fellow human beings. Jesus’ resurrection benefits us. And God resurrected Jesus!
Like-minded people gathered together. Evidence of God’s powerful presence in and among the people is not simply or conclusively joyous shouting and audible praise. The evidence is the new relationship created among the diverse people who experience the power of God. Like-mindedness should foster like-minded behavior; a power filled life. This gathering was not one of people with a well-developed doctrine, a hierarchical infrastructure, a board of deacons, a newly printed hymnal, a dynamic well-trained choir, a magnificent “house of God,” or a membership roster. We are summoned to be channels for God’s power, pragmatically changing lives.
Metaphorically, Ananias and Sapphira represent the majority and Barnabas a minority among the believers. Significantly, the practice of sharing to meet needs was instituted early in the community, at least in the world of the text. It is possible that the Acts summaries (2:42-47; 4:32-35, and 5:12-16) are romanticized and fictional portrayals that do not represent actual practice. Nevertheless, they are at least ideals.
“No one was saying that property belonging to him or her was their own but that it belonged to the community,” verse 32. All (including Barnabas, Sapphira, and Ananias, we presume) rehearsed the rhetoric of commonality and of providing for the needy among them. But when it came to actual practice, the rhetoric did not match the practice. The constant use of the imperfect tense (action starting in the past and continuing in the present) supports this idea of an established and yet inchoate or developing ideal. It is an ideal worthy of conception, reflection, inflection (nuance), and execution.
Those who incarnated the power of the resurrection were selling material possessions. But some panicked when instead of steak for dinner, they got beans; several were used to shopping at Neiman Marcus and now had to settle for Kohls; and others felt they worked too hard to give up their goods for someone. We are bombarded with media images and even sermons that teach that material goods are the trophies and markers of our successes. The more successful we are, the more we are entitled to.
The statement about how the apostles declared the power of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection is connected both grammatically and causatively to the showering of God’s great grace upon the crowd. All the believers were having access to God’s grace. But the presence of God’s resurrection grace (God raised Jesus) is expressed when the community provides for the needy among them with their own resources. At a time when some Christians and politicians demonize a social justice gospel, the scriptures still call us to it. The scene may be somewhat romanticized, but it is a worthy ideal, nonetheless.
If we believe in God as one who can do the impossible and the unimaginable, why do we hide behind the “ideals” as the unattainable? In an ideal world, we say…. But isn’t that the point of believing in an ideal God that She can assist us in creating, and surpassing, some of our ideas and ideals? Currently, it is estimated that 15.7 million children live in poverty. What is the response of the people of God who believe in the power of the Resurrection?