When Margaret Ulbrich marries the entrepreneurial Walter Keane it appears to be a partnership made in heaven. She paints the unique ‘big eye’ waif pictures and her husband sells them like hot cakes. And not just the originals, but prints, posters, and postcards. There is just one problem. Walter begins to pass himself off as the artist, keeping Margaret out of sight as she paints. The longer the deception goes on the harder it is for Margaret to speak up. The money pours in, but the fraudulent situation begins to take its toll.
One of the big Biblical deception stories is that of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts, chapter 5. It reads like an Old Testament story smack in the middle of the New. The young church is just getting going and Barnabas is one amongst many who generously sell some land and give the money to those in need (chapter 4 vv 32-37). He is known as ‘the encourager’ and certainly must have been well-liked. Along come Ananias and Sapphira. They see what Barny has done and decide to do the same. Perhaps they wanted to be seen to be encouraging, perhaps they thought it would make them popular.
Either way they sell their land, but don’t hand over all the money. They claim to, but hold some back. And that was their big mistake. They could have admitted it was only part of the money, that would have been fine. The rest of the story plays out a bit like a deadly version of that old Husband and Wife quiz show, Mr & Mrs. Ananias is asked a question and when he gets it wrong – he dies! And before his body is cold Sapphira is brought in. (Perhaps she’s been in one of those booths with headphones on so she can’t hear her husband’s answer.) She’s asked the same question, ‘Was this the price you got for the land?’ She gets the answer wrong, ‘Yes.’ and drops dead too! Awkward.
Why such a fierce, shocking story? I can only guess that people were watching this new community closely. They were known for their compassion, honesty and generosity. And so was their God. For Ananias to start messing with that would send out all the wrong signals. You know what small communities are like, word might have spread that you could get away with all kinds of deception for your own ends. And what picture of God would that have projected? Plus this was a powerful, extraordinary time. Healings and wonders were prevalent. Perhaps this terrifying display of power was to highlight the potentially disastrous nature of pretence.