Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them 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! You have no part or share in this, 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 the chains of wickedness.’ Simon answered, ‘Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.’ Now after Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.
Christian communities can have an uncomfortable relationship with money. URC Ministers and Elders are very unlikely to be tempted to try to buy office or to attain spiritual ends in our churches, but do we not understand the temptations revealed in Chapter 2 of the letter of James where the writer contrasts the reception that may be given to visitors wearing gold rings and fine clothes and poor people in dirty clothes? As the son and the father of men who became church treasurers in their twenties, and as a minister of local congregations, I know how significant money (especially the lack of it) can be in churches. We may well also have experienced the way in which some, but certainly not all, of those who have more money than most can expect to have more influence than others in the life of a local church: not necessarily as overt as Simon’s request in today’s passage but creating difficulties nonetheless.
Have you engaged in as robust a confrontation as that between Peter and this very different Simon? Probably not. But how confident are we that we have not allowed, and would not allow, those who contribute large sums of money to have undue influence in our churches? At least I have been spared the experience of a friend in another denomination who was expected to display in the Church itself an over-large portrait of a rich local “celebrity” on those few occasions when she felt like coming to service!
“Money is a great servant but a bad master” (Francis Bacon).
Most gracious God, we give thanks for all the resources entrusted to us; guide us and strengthen us, we pray, to use all that we have and all that we are in ways that show and share the love that Jesus has made known. In his name and power, we pray: Amen.
The Rev’d Julian Macro is a Retired Minister and member of Verwood URC