I remember a joke about gold when I was a kid. Goofy but educational. A guy is walking down the street when a criminal rips off his watch and runs. The guy says, “AU! Give me back my watch!” AU is the periodic table symbol for gold. I got this from the Facts of Life.
That occurred to me in a roundabout way, when I wanting to write this blog today. Why is gold so precious? It is not a small thing to appraise something as more precious than gold.
Gold is shiny. It is dense. But particularly it does not absorb outside material. No stain, no muss, no fuss.
When it comes to the things of this world that bring us down, how easily are we stained? The worries of this life? Ways to objectify people? I remember the words of John Paul II were something like, “Love people, use things. Do not use people and love things.” There are a lot of dirty things that can cling to us if we do not have a fundamental lean to something that really grounds us in what matters.
Such is on my mind with Simon Peter here.
Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” 24 Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”
There are two things at least we can get from this story. First, Peter walked with something more precious than gold or silver: he had Jesus and kept Him in mind as his greatest treasure. Based on some prior verses in Acts 8 we can guess that Simon the magician had bling since his magic show was popular.
The next thing is “God’s gift” in this context. Peter could not pretend to sell the gift of the Holy Spirit because it was not for sale. Jesus defined the Holy Spirit as a gift to be received from your Father in heaven. God is in the grace business, not in the profit-business.
The rest of this interaction is profound and a bit complex. Peter refers Simon the magician to God for forgiveness. Maybe he knew Simon had been baptized as a believer or maybe no one had told him. The bottom line is that Peter did not see him as having any “part or share” in the Church.
This is important because of the response of Simon to Peter. Simon is repentant perhaps further than Peter might have hoped for. He asks for Peter to pray to God for the grace to not be cast out or be kept out of the Church.
To see the full color of this, I should talk about the sacraments. When you are baptized there is a deep, indelible mark on you that saves or makes one whole (1 Peter 3:21). You have received the good news of God’s love in Jesus.
The next sacrament that is important is confirmation. Confirmation is for someone to be counted as a part of God’s orchestra called the Church and is infused with the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120, they were confirmed. The Holy Spirit speaks to, and then from, our hearts Abba (Daddy), Father. It confirms a key perception by which we can walk in unity with the Head and the Body.
What this reminds me of is a frequent saying of Dr. Scott Hahn that, “The good news keeps getting better.” Simon recognizes where he was falling short and had a good idea about this new kingdom on how to fix it.
Simon could have gone to any Christian, maybe Phillip the deacon and evangelist for this prayer. But he responds straight to Peter. There is a common misnomer in our culture of “Jesus and me”. But Simon asks Peter instead because Peter was priest as well as an apostle. Priests administer the sacrament of confession (John 20:22-23, James 5:15-17). In some way Simon recognized that as a newly baptized believer.
If Simon perceived the Jesus and His Church as just another gig, he would have walked away. But I believe that by some understanding of the witness of holy living in Peter and the power of Christ’s sacraments that he saw something more. Simon was working in the wrong currency. The first pebble he wanted was to be made whole. Since there is not a further comment from Peter I can assume that he showed God’s mercy.
So in this journey of conversion, if we choose it, what are we wanting for this life that matters and how much do we want it? Baptism saves us. Confirmation joins us. Confession renews us. God wants us to have it all in at least some way. Do we?