In the United States, land has long represented freedom, self-reliance, hope, and self-determination (on one hand), slavery, clearances, eviction, theft, and deceit (on the other hand. How can such divergent perspectives be? Well, for many Native Americans the initial immigration of Europeans may have not been a disaster, but what occurred especially after the Civil War (or the War Between the States) was often cruel and morally questionable (at best). For those trying to escape the crowded East Coast and the memories of the recent war and slavery, it was something to seek.
Even today land is essential. While in the United States the land and the buildings (for example) are part of the value, in places like Japan, the land is the only thing that matter (for cultural reasons). Land has long been a symbol of power. It also is a symbol of life. It can also represent family roots.
When the people of Egypt sell their land and themselves to Pharoah, they are surrendering their lives and that which allowed them to live. They had surrendered their future, their children’s future, and even their grandchildren’s future. In all likelihood, they sold themselves into bonded servitude to pay off the debt they took on to survive. It isn’t clear how long this servitude was to last. Theoretically, it was until the debt was paid off, however, as both the land and the people were sold, we can assume that it would take a while to pay off the debt. How the land would have been purchased back is something else. It would have been a process and a slow one. One’s only hope would be the dim one that one’s children would be free of the debt.
With all the comes to mind in these situations, how people viewed themselves, their (lack of) freedom, or their hope (if any), is anyone’s guess. We can conclude that in desperate times that people surrendered their freedom and the one thing (land) that would allow them to continue to be free.
Land is still pretty important. As we watch property values skyrocket, we are all very much aware of it. As more people move in, rural areas that were once affordable are no longer so. If someone were to just sell their property and give it to the framily (i.e., the church friends and family of Generations Community Church), we would all be grateful, but we would also be a bit confused. If that same person were to sell that property and only give the proceeds to those in need in the church, we would be a bit more understanding, but it would be unusual. This is not a moral judgment, but a recognition of just how strange the First Century Church was. It broke all the traditions.
Tie this back to culture. The land was the family’s legacy and inheritance. Selling it was done only in desperation. Yet, here we are talking about exactly that. While Barnabas is called out in Acts (yes, Ananias and Sapphira are too), the implication is not that Barnabas’ act was unique, but it does imply that it was a significant sale. One of the differences that we can infer (easily) is that Barnabas did it to take care of his church family, while Ananias and Sapphira did it for acclaim. Both land sales took care of the church family, but the hearts of the sales were completely different.
1) What relationship, reflections, and feelings do you have in regards to owning land (not necessarily buildings)?
2) How desperate would you be to sell yourself, your property, and your foreseeable future to someone? How desperate must the Egyptians have been?
3) What does Barnabas’ action tell you about who he viewed as family? What does that tell you about the First Century Church?