Proper 8, Year One[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) // 128, 129, 130 (evening)
1 Samuel 12:1-6, 16-25
In today’s second reading, a man named Simon tries to pay for something that money can’t buy. The apostles Peter and John have traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria in order to pray that the newly-baptized Samaritans would receive the Holy Spirit. When Peter and John lay hands on the Samaritans, the Holy Spirit comes to these new Christians as a gift.
Simon completely misunderstands this transaction. First, he thinks that Peter and John have a special position of power in and of themselves, when in fact they serve as mere transmitters of God’s empowering Spirit. Second, Simon thinks that money can buy the power that Peter and John seem to possess. As the Scripture says, “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.'” Peter has a harsh response to Simon: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” God’s gifts, and the privilege of handing these gifts to others, are not for sale.
This story is the source for the term “simony”: the buying of ecclesiastical offices, especially in the Middle Ages. For the right price, you or your close friend or relative could be the next prominent bishop or abbot! Simony was one of the most persistent abuses of power in the church and a prime target of the Gregorian Reform in the eleventh century.
While medieval manifestations of simony are less overt today, we are still prone to the errors of Simon. So often, we perceive people and institutions to be powers unto themselves, whose positions and products can be bought. What if we imagined these people and institutions as mere conduits for the pure gifts that God desires to give us? There are so many gracious gifts of God that should not come at a price or at the whim of the powerful.
Thanks to the events of last week, at least the gifts of health and companionship are flowing to God’s people more freely.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.