But there was a man named Ananias who, with this wife Sapphira had sold a piece of property, but with her full knowledge, reserved part of the price for himself. He brought the remainder to put at the apostles’ disposal. But Peter said to him, “Ananias, why has Satan so filled your mind that you could cheat the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the price of the land? Before the land was sold it was yours, and after the sale the disposal of the price you received was entirely in your hands, wasn’t it? Then whatever made you think of such a thing as this? You have not lied to men, but to God!”
As soon as Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died. All who were within earshot were appalled at this incident. The young men got to their feet and after wrapping up his body carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later it happened that his wife came in not knowing what had taken place, Peter spoke directly to her, “Tell me, did you sell your land for so much?” “Yes,” she replied, “that was it.”
Then Peter said to her, “How could you two have agreed to put the Spirit of the Lord to such a test? Listen, you can hear the footsteps of the men who have just buried your husband coming back through the door, and they will carry you out as well!”
Immediately she collapsed at Peter’s feet and died. When the young men came into the room they found her a dead woman, and they carried her out and buried her by the side of her husband. At this happening a deep sense of awe swept over the whole Church and indeed all those who heard about it. (Acts 5:1-11)
When Jesus first spoke the word “Mammon," here was the context in which it came, couched in the center of the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:19-21 & 24)
His usage there, the way He pits one against the other, plus the fact that that word was borrowed from the Syriac culture, where “Mammon” had a god-like connotation, is, I think, actually quite helpful for our understanding of our own wealth, money and possessions. What if, instead of just being stock portfolios, numbers on a bank statement, things, possessions, “toys,” we began to view these things in the context of the power they’d like to wield over us? What if, instead of Jesus’ famous ending to Matthew 6, “Mammon” took off his mask and spoke in your ear what, perhaps, he spoke in the ear of Ananias and Sapphira on their last day?
“Therefore I tell you, be anxious about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink, and about your body, what you will put on. Your life is not more than food, and your body is nothing more than clothing. Look at the ants on the ground: they toil and struggle and gather into their homes; you need to feed yourself like one of them. You are not of more value than they. And perhaps by being anxious you can add an hour to your span of life. So, yes, go on being anxious about clothing. Consider the weeds in the alleyway, how they grow: they spring up, rather hideous, and, yes, I tell you, unless you toil away, you will be arrayed like one of these. You see, if they are so unwanted, undesirable, alive today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, you’d better get to work and clothe yourselves in the best you can find. Therefore be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ and ‘What shall we drink?’ and ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and you know you need them too, so aren’t they wise to have done so? So seek first the kingdom of this world and its present forms of “righteousness,” and work to add all these things to yourself. Be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious… Insufficient for the day is its own trouble – seek out some more.” (Rewritten version of Matthew 6:25-34, changes in bold)
And if you think I’ve overstepped by pitting Jesus’ words against their counterpoints, ask yourself: Is what you just read anything different than what the world daily offers you? Did anything in that rewrite really shock your sensibilities? I doubt it. To me, that’s just a write-up of the evening news – including all the commercials…
In the midst of the Early Church’s freedom, Ananias and Sapphira were bound by shackles they couldn’t see; they were slaves to what they possessed that, in actual fact, possessed them. Are we actually free? In view of the fact that “the Son has set us free,” are we “free indeed”; free in practice, in actuality; free in spirit; free to follow Him, no matter where He leads?