Sunday, June 3, 2012

Acts, Chapter 5: How to get all your cult members' money in one easy step

This is a lovely little fable about what happens when you don't give every red penny to the new cult in your neighbourhood.

Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell some property. They keep some of the money, and give the rest to the apostles, but for some reason, they claim it's all the profits.  Peter knows instantly and gives them a lecture about how this is lying to the holy spirit and god and is the work of satan. This causes Ananias to drop dead right there. This understandably scares the crap out of everyone watching, which is a pretty good way to convince people to give all their worldly possessions to your cult. They bury Ananias without even telling his wife what happened. Nice.

Three hours later, Sapphira wanders by wondering where her husband is. Peter asks her how much she sold the land for, and she tells him the untruthful figure.  Peter tells her it's a lie and that the men who buried her husband are outside, waiting to take her away. She dies. And they bury her. And the people are ruled by fear.

The apostles' power continues to grow, and they take over an entire porch at the temple until non-believers are afraid to go there anymore. I'm picturing, like, a high-school gang that takes over the best tables in a high school cafeteria and intimidates non-members and steals their lunch money. Anyway, the believers start bringing their sick relatives over for healing, hoping that Peter's passing shadow will do the trick. All of them, every last one, is fixed this way.

The priests get tired of this, and arrest the apostles, but that night an angel comes along and frees them and tells them to resume teaching at the temple. So they do. Somehow, the priests arrive and don't notice the commotion in the courtyard, because they send word to the jail to bring the apostles over. The messengers come back and say all the prison guards are there and everything, but there's no one in the cells.

Finally, someone notices the hubbub in the courtyard realises it's the disciples. They bring them in quietly, fearing they'll be stoned by the people if they seize them. They remind the disciples that they have told them not to teach or blame them for Jesus' death, but here they are, not listening. Peter pipes up that they obey god, not men, and the Sanhedrin bloody well did kill Jesus by hanging him from a tree, and they intend to keep publicising this fact.

The priests, fearing the riots that always ensue from this kind of thing, decide the most expedient thing to do now is the kill the disciples. One of the Pharisees, Gamaliel, stands up to speak, reminding them of Theudas, a proto-Jesus who was killed and his people scattered, so his movement died. The same thing happened to someone called Judas of Galilee, who lead a tax revolt and was also slain and his followers banished. He advises them to lay off the disciples, because if their work is human and not divine, it will fail on its own, but if it's divine, they can't win and they'll be fighting god. Which is an excellent point. So they call the apostles back, flog them a bit, and let them go, with instructions to stop talking about Jesus. Of course this has no effect.

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