Day 22: No Magic; No Money
Adapted from Acts 8.18-21
Dear Lord, We are told how a magician named Simon was amazed by the work of Philip and followed him everywhere in Samaria. When this magician saw Peter and John lay hands on people to give them the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Simon offered the apostles money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!”
As celebrate these fifty days after Easter, we come to Chapter 8 in Acts where the Apostle Philip has ventured into Samaria. To give this story deeper context we need to remember, “there is a long history of enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews.” Willimon emphasizes that Samaritans are considered “ritually impure.” Josephus describes them as “altering their attitudes according to their circumstances.” Nevertheless, Philip is daring to convert people in Samaria, and as Willimon points out, Philip is working yet another miracle: “Nationalistic recrimination is being overcome through the Spirit; Jew and Samaritan are being joined.” (Willimon. Acts, 1998, p. 68)
The context of this Scripture is clear, Simon is a popular magician, and he loves to dazzle people. He sees something in Peter that he wants. Simon, the magician, craves power. The book of Acts does not clarify why Simon wants to buy what Peter and John have—we do not know if Simon wants this “for the good of others or his own advancement.” (Willimon 69) That really is not the issue for the author of Acts. Rather, this Scripture wants to make clear that God’s gifts to us are never for sale and they have nothing to do with “magic.”
Willimon defines magic as “the attempt to control divine powers through the application of certain techniques or esoteric formulae.” When someone is seen as a magician, they are seen as controlling the outcome. Peter wants us to know when the apostles lay hands on people, “all such manifestations are gifts of God—surprising, undeserved, unmanilpulated, uncontrollable. (8.20)” (Willimon p. 69)
Last week we talked about God working through the church and how human beings can put too much emphasis on which denomination is better. This week we are looking at how the gifts of God can flow through individuals. However, these gifts are not to be seen as predictable, deserved, manipulations that those individuals control. In the book that Dr. Dianne Martin and I wrote called, PRAY. ACT. PRAY AGAIN; prayer always precedes action. The inspiration to “lay hands on people” comes from God as a gift. It is not something people can buy. The church got into a lot of trouble when it tried to “sell indulgences.” God’s economy is not quantifiable by human mathematics. Will we value God’s gifts even though we can never control them? Will we give God the credit God deserves?
Dear Lord, Your gifts are numerous, help us to accept and value them; as we give all honor and credit to You. Amen.