The Shock of Inescapable Consequence
Christ is risen!
OK, THAT got my attention! Bill was notorious for falling asleep in Mr. Thompson’s Lit class. To be fair, the class was right after lunch and all of us sometimes struggled to “stay focused” during some of Mr. Thompson’s lectures, but he really worked hard to keep things lively and to make the class both informative and fun. He was a good teacher. Well, this late and warm Spring day was just too much for my buddy and he fell asleep again. We were studying Shakespeare and I remember Mr. Thompson picking up the blackboard eraser and yelling “Cry HAVOK!” and then he threw the eraser at Bill’s sleeping head! Needless to say, all of us stayed awake for the rest of the class!
By the way, I loved Mr. Thompson. He was one of the most memorable teachers I ever had. And he was a very kind and engaging educator. Plus, it was a time when Mr. Thompson’s Christian faith was able to be shared without the secular world losing their minds that a teacher was a genuine believer. Ah, the “good ole’ days!”
But the nature of consequences all too often in our lives comes as a shock to us. Seriously, if we really knew just how awful the consequences were of our short-sighted choices, no one in their right mind would live foolishly. But that’s the problem. Disconnected from the wisdom of Christ, we are prone to foolish decisions and selfish choices. And sometimes those choices are deadly!
Look at our lesson in Acts 5:1-11:
IN THOSE DAYS, a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.
The early Christian community was a growing and tight-knit “family.” And this family was based on a radical commitment to each other. In fact, the very basis for our high view of our “communion” together flows from this early and clear attitude towards the new community of the Church that was empowered by the Risen Christ at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Communion meant (and means) more than merely a religious act, the act reflected a serious commitment to a sober and honest life together with each other! And Ananias and Sapphira thought they could trick Christ and the community by pretending to be something they weren’t! The consequences were, shall we say, attention-getting. They both dropped dead!
Ok, this is a pretty bizarre story to tell at the beginnings of the Church community after the Resurrection of Christ, and the inauguration of the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. But here it is. Notice that it is the very nature of the story and its amazing events that lend credibility to the history of the story itself. Why include something this shocking or stark if your point was to show how wonderful being in the Church was? No, the story is here for a powerful lesson, a lesson that cost the lives of two people who failed to appreciate the power of the relationship in the Body of Christ. They lied, not to St. Peter, but to the Holy Spirit. And the very foolishness of lying to the Holy Spirit Who is God and knows all things reveals the true spiritual poverty of these two and the fact that they actually didn’t believe in God at all, or worse, their belief in God wasn’t stronger than their desire to keep the profits for themselves!
The Holy 9 Monk-Martyrs of Cyzicus were faithful men from various places that had come to live in the city of Cyzicus towards the end of the 3rd century. These men were from different backgrounds; they varied from the young St. Antipater to the very old St. Rufus, and they were from varied educational backgrounds and from different strata of society. But they were united in their Faith and the desire to see the Church grow in this important Roman city. Even though the Church was growing, the city itself was still very pagan and the monks boldly called out the pagan practices as worshipping false gods. They were arrested and tortured and all beheaded towards the end of the 3rd century (289-299 AD) and their relics were found d in 324 AD when the city and all of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire had ceased Christian persecution.
Today, what would it take to shock you out of the lethargy of your everyday routine? Do you need that kind of “shock” to wake you up? Why not avoid the need for such a stark wake-up call by regularly practicing the disciplines of the Faith designed to keep you awake and living a Normal Orthodox life!
P.S. By Divine command, the Holy Nine Martyrs from various cities were united in a single alliance, and courageously suffered martyrdom for Christ; by your patience, the invisible enemy1 was defeated, the wicked princes and tormentors were put to shame, the spiritual fire of love for God was kindled, and the material fire which tormented you was cooled. Therefore, grace has been given unto you by Christ God to heal the plague, and we pray that you will save us from it, and from other afflictions, by your protection.