Acts 8: 4 – 13 Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city. Now a certain man named Simon had previously practised magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.
Reflection “Even Simon himself believed.” I have a lot of sympathy for Simon, even when he gets things wrong. For me, Simon represents the many people in our communities who have a lot of faith in something divine, but don’t see the need to define what that divine something is. I can sympathise with that view. We Christians often talk of God as indefinable, as we sing “indescribable, uncontainable” (C. Tomlin 2004). So it’s understandable when people rock out to the idea of God as a “spirit in the sky” and see Jesus as only about getting to “the place that’s the best” (N. Greenbaum 1969). However whilst Simon was caught up in the magic and mystery of the impossible being possible, Philip wasn’t preaching about the unknowable divine or even about Jesus getting people into heaven.
Philip proclaimed the Messiah. To proclaim the Messiah is to announce God’s Kingdom community NOW. All the miracles were signs that God’s restoration project had begun and that God was bringing back justice and reclaiming the people for his purposes. God was dismantling the powers working against God and God’s creation. God started with restoring individuals with every miracle, but those personal miracles were only ever the beginning.
Unfortunately, some folks think that Jesus is just a way to escape reality, rather than being in the business of changing our reality. The Messiah’s work was not a magic trick, but rather is the truth of who God is and who we are in God’s Creation. Simon’s magic helped people escape reality for a while, whereas what Philip did invited people into the reality of the community of God. And “even Simon” was invited. “Even Simon” believed. If there is hope for Simon, there is hope for every single one of us – even you, even me.
Prayer God, we praise You as You are God, Creator of our world. We thank You that You are at work – Creator, Son and Holy Spirit – restoring the whole of creation for Your plans and purposes. Amen
The Rev’d Angela Rigby is Minister of Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks.