Simon the Great

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.” – Acts 8:18-21

A certain magician named Simon was the David Copperfield of first-century Israel. He could do tricks that passed for miracles, and the people followed him in droves, calling him Simon the Great.

Then the people got distracted by the new game in town: the apostles preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, and doing their own miracles. They had not magic, which fades, but the Holy Spirit, which endures.

Simon knew when he was beaten and got in line with the crowds to get his share of the Spirit they were handing out. But Peter stopped him cold and gave him what-for.

The Christian history books remember Simon badly. He was dubbed “the archheretic” for trying to buy God’s power. From him comes our word “simony,” the buying and selling of ecclesiastical privileges.

It’s easy to pillory Simon. But I’m not convinced his motives were bad. He was working within the system he knew. Can’t money buy a lot of things, and solve a lot of problems? And why shouldn’t we want to support the great enterprise that is the Way of Jesus?

But the story reminds us that the Holy Spirit, by design, is more accessible to those who have not than those who have. After all, Jesus said it was the poor, and the poor in spirit, who would inherit the Kingdom.

It is always galling to those who have power, privilege and wealth (among them: you and you and me) to discover that there are still things that money can’t buy. But it is at the point where our resources fail that God can begin to provide.


God, nothing succeeds like success–until success fails. Thank you for putting limits on our power and greatness, so we can have real miracles instead of fleeting magic in our lives. Amen.

About the Author
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.