During Theocult’s seasonal break Justin posted a piece about Simon the Sorcerer that I wrote for our church (If you haven’t read that post yet, check it out before reading this one). My preparation and study for the post was as interesting to me as actually writing the short story. Most of my thoughts concerning the story revolve around consumerism and greed. We live in the wealthiest nation in history. We should be really concerned with spiritual baggage that comes with wealth. Here are some of my observations concerning consumerism, mankind, and scripture.
Unless you are freed from the bonds of slavery to money, you are a slave. We are conceived in consumption, born in consumerism, and raised in greed. It has been this way from the earliest recorded times.
It took Simon Peter’s entire journey with Jesus to be truly free from the bonds of money. Simon Peter watched closely as Jesus lived supernaturally, refusing to rely on finances for his own or his close friends’ care. He listened intently as Christ taught a new perspective on it. He probably struggled to keep his famously loose tongue silent when Jesus sent the rich young ruler away with such an incredibly difficult demand. But I think it was probably Judas who finally convinced Simon Peter that Jesus’ view of money was absolutely correct. It was the betrayal of God for silver, the exchange of the Savior’s life for coins that finally imprinted the ultimate cost of consumerism on Simon Peter’s heart. He would never forget, and money never held him in its controlling grasp again.
There are three famous stories about Simon Peter and money in the book of Acts. In each he sees clearly and responds with the wisdom and fire of the Holy Spirit who now controlled his life. The first story is in the beginning of Acts 3. Simon Peter and John were on their way up to the Temple to pray and on the way they passed a lame beggar calling out for money. Peter “directed his gaze” at the man and spoke saying, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” This was a very interesting thing for Simon Peter to say considering the end of chapter 2 when we are told that the Fellowship of the Believers were “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need”. Clearly Simon Peter could have run back to the group and rounded up some silver and gold for this man. Except, he didn’t deal in the financial economy anymore. It didn’t even enter his thoughts. He now dealt in Christ’s economy.
The second story occurs in Acts 5. It’s the well-known story of Ananias and Sapphira. They sold their land and brought a portion of the money to the disciples, claiming it to be the full amount. Simon Peter no longer held by the control of money was able to see the invisible and called out the truth. Both Ananias and Sapphira, held by the treacherous grasp of greed, fell over dead worshiping money, not God.
The third story is that of Simon Peter and Simon the Sorcerer. Two Simons. One was a rock and one an orphan. The Rock was filled with Power. The orphan craved it.
Here’s a crazy principle about the nature of supernatural power. You can buy magic. For a financial price, you can obtain or observe supernatural power. It’s shallow and deceitful, but out of the ordinary “natural” human experience nonetheless. When someone gets a taste of the supernatural they naturally crave more, but since its “super” natural, its beyond the natural and can’t be grasped at will. So, people do what they’ve always done in such situations, they try and buy it in order to consume it.
We don’t know how Simon the Sorcerer obtained his magical powers, but he definitely obtained it, that is to say, he paid for it somehow. Magic is bought. The Power of the Holy Spirit is not bought.
Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria, back in the days of the prophets and kings of Israel had to learn this lesson too. After Naaman was healed of his leprosy by bathing in the Jordan he returned to Elisha to pay him. In Naaman’s economy a supernatural experience needed to be bought. But Elisha, like Peter, was that rare man whom God had freed from servitude to payment. Elisha responded to Naaman “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none”. Gahazi, Elisha’s servant, was not as wise as his master Elisha. Gahazi, filled with greed and behind Elisha’s back, chased Naaman down on his journey home, and accepted payment from him. When Gahazi returned, Elisha, not held by the power of money, was able to see the invisible and called out the truth. Gahazi spent the rest of his life “out of his presence” as a leper.
Simon the Sorcerer, having somehow bought his magic, now wished to buy the Holy Spirit. Simon Peter’s response is incredible in its clarity. Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity”.
Simon the Sorcerer had “believed” the message of Philip and had even been baptized. But you cannot serve both God and money (or maybe for our current culture its more clearly said “you cannot serve both God and consumption”). Simon Peter had learned this lesson well. Simon the Sorcerer, having believed and been baptized, had not counted this cost yet.
God knows each man’s heart. The rich young ruler most likely perished with his silver. We know that Judas perished with his. Ananias and Sapphira perished with their silver. Gahazi was banished from the presence of Elisha with his silver. And Simon the Sorcerer was told that he could either repent or perish with his.
We don’t know if Simon the Sorcerer was freed from his worship of consumption. But we do know that Simon Peter was. Those who serve money can hope for magic. Those who serve God can hope for resurrection and Spirit.