The temptation is to research this chapter so as to include a historical interpretation and to review the thoughts of others but my objective, as I understand it, is to read the chapter, to reflect as I do so and then ultimately to see where I am led. I suppose that is what we hope for when we read from the bible: to see what does this say to me, what meaning and direction do I take away from this reading. So, I have read and reread this chapter and then gone for long bike rides to let thoughts and some clarity to come to me. That is my method that works for me and this is what Chapter 5 is saying to me.
This is a story of two faiths. The first part of the chapter tells a story about a man and his wife who are commanded to sell all of their possessions and to make the proceeds available for the common good. In essence, a communal approach to wealth where all is made available to each according to need. The man is only able to partially carry out this expectation because, in my interpretation, of his need for security and his lack of total commitment to a life of faith and belief. This is entirely understandable in that this would seem to be a radical expectation that one should sell all that one has and give it away and then live fully in a life based upon the expectation that God will provide for your true needs.
The man is asked if he has done as commanded and he says that he has done so. It is clear to those asking that he has not done so and he knows that as well. Perhaps the trauma of the deceit and the expectation of a radical departure from the only life he has known caused him such distress that he passes away. The same thing happens to his wife after she is asked whether she has done as commanded, which she has clearly not done and she too passes away after she hears of her husband’s death. My interpretation is that in a figurative sense, they were dead to a transformative life of faith because they ultimately could not let go of their significant dependence on possessions and perhaps the security brought by that. Theirs is a story of “faith lite”.
The second example of faith is one where lives have been transformed by faith, where one was willing to tread even unto dangerous places because that is where faith and belief led them. This group of early Christians were so consumed and joyful because of their transformations that they eagerly defied the commands of religious authority when told not to preach the words of Jesus nor to act upon His behalf. They were imprisoned, beaten and told to refrain from further acts of ministry but they joyfully ignored those commands and continued their new life of active faith and expression. It is also indicated that others in the community believed in the transformative power of those early apostles and believers that they brought their sick to be healed by them. They too were healed by their unquestioning belief. These early followers, in essence, saw that their faith was essential to their very being and life, even in the face of danger, was only worth living when one was active in the expression of that faith. This was a story of total commitment to faith which was to be contrasted with the example of “faith lite” which began the chapter.
It seems as if this is the timeless condition that we all face. How do we live our faith and what is expected of us? I fear that the vast majority of us, myself included, would fall into the “faith lite” category if we thought that in order to be true followers of Jesus that we had to sell all and devote all for the welfare of others. I understand that my faith is not strong enough to take that radical step and I know therefore, that my thoughts and actions typically prevent me from living life fully in a faith relationship with God. I also strongly believe, however, that scripture also tells us that we are saved and loved in spite of our immense failings. I believe in God’s grace and that I, and all of us, are valued and forever loved because we are His children. Yes, life is lived more fully when we are intentional in our life of faith and we are called to strive in that direction but Oh do we stray from that path with such regularity! Thanks be to God for His Grace!
Perhaps you read and interpret this selection differently. What are your thoughts about what living in faith means? How is your relationship with God shaped by how you live out your faith? Do you feel that you are “dead” to a life of faith unless you are totally transformed into a new life by that faith? Big questions indeed!