Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Your Cheatin' Heart Will Tell on You

Dear Hearts and Gentle People,
It’s getting to be spring, and my next entry will talk about that, but right now we’re having rain, wind, and sun, in no particular order, but changing very swiftly from one to the other, and if that ain’t spring I don’t know what is.
The good news is that my latest angiogram showed very little heart disease. My meds have been adjusted, and so far the chest pains have been in abeyance, maybe even because the angiogram looked so good. I had the procedure a week ago yesterday, and I’m hoping the bruise will go away someday. You haven’t lived until your whole thigh has turned purple.
It seems like a lot of my friends (and I) are dealing with the attrition of advancing age. Damn it.
But before we discuss mortality much more, here’s another Lenten meditation based on a hard story from the Book of Acts. The most pleasing feedback I’ve had on this piece is, “I’d read the Bible more if you had written it.” Fortunately the canon has been closed since the 4th century or so, and I will be spared for other endeavors, like essays, letters, emails, and maybe even a romance novel. We’ll see.
Read on.

Your Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell On You*

Continuing a Lenten study: The Fifth Chapter of Acts.
After Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and taken up to heaven, the Jewish sect of his followers was growing fast. Some people were selling pieces of land and giving the money to the disciples. Apparently discipleship didn’t pay any better then than it does now.
Well, Ananias (not the Ananias who laid hands on Saul/Paul. Another Ananias) and his wife Sapphira sold some land, but they decided to keep part of the proceeds for themselves, and give the rest to the disciples.
When Ananias brought the money to Peter, Peter said, “Ananias, you low life, double dealing, shekel sucking scum – why did you listen to Satan and lie to God?”
Ananias, upon hearing this, fell down and died. A few young guy disciples carried him out and buried him. This is told so matter-of-factly, you wonder if it didn’t happen all the time. “Oh, look. Someone else died. Better take him out and bury him.”
Sapphira, waiting at home, was wondering where Ananias was, and went around to Peter’s house to make inquiries.
Peter asked Sapphira a trick question: “Did you sell your land for such and such a price?” “Why, yes,” answered Sapphira, for that was what she and her husband had agreed to tell Peter. This was the wrong answer.
“Sapphira,” said Peter, “How dare you? You and your husband are a couple of scheming liars. Look, here come the guys who buried Ananias, and they’ll bury you, too.” And Sapphira fell down dead, and the boys carried her away and buried her, too.
Moral: Lying to God = Death. Being honest with God = Life.
I would like to see this done as a CSI episode. The bodies of Ananias and Sapphira are discovered by a passing pita vendor who spots a foot sticking out of a hastily dug shallow grave. The authorities are called in, in this case a top notch team of Roman forensic specialists who study the bodies for clues as to the manner of their demise. They find no wounds, no signs of illness or poisoning, but they look around and find a trail of fresh dirt that leads to Peter’s house.
They question Peter, who tells them that Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, and as a consequence were struck dead. The Romans are flummoxed. They have no evidence to pin the killings on anyone, and have to come in with a verdict of “death by God.” Not being Jews and having no knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, they are unaware of God’s long history as a serial smiter, but they can’t come up with any other answer. They close the case, shaking their heads, and go back to other more earthly investigations, except one who takes early retirement and moves to an island out in the Mediterranean, where he strolls the shore every day, occasionally picking up an empty sea shell and asking, “And you? What killed you? Was it God? Ha ha ha.”
Seriously, folks, the story of Ananias and Sapphira packs a heck of a punch, whether you take it as a literal story of what happened to two people who thought they could look righteous while making a tidy profit, or as a metaphor for what happens when you don’t turn your life over completely to God (your higher power, truth, reality, or, insert your label here: ___).
People get away with stuff all the time in this physical world, and have no regrets or remorse until and unless they get caught. When it comes to the accounting of your own soul, you can’t cook the books and get away with it. In the bigger reality, there are no secrets, and you can’t get away with lying. Pretty scary, huh? Yeah. That’s why God wins so few popularity contests.
*Your Cheating Heart, by Hank Williams. © 1952 by Fred Rose Music, Inc.

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