Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sympathy for Simon the Sorcerer

During the years that I was a teenager and then a young man, I dreamed of becoming a rock star. That dream became my all consuming passion--my god, if you will. I worshipped the dream and sacrificed much at its altar. When, in my early 20's, I became a follower of Jesus, I kept hold of the dream but transposed Jesus onto it. Now I wanted to be a Christian rock star.

I had come to Christ dragging a lot of baggage with me, and it took time for me to gradually jettison that baggage--piece by piece. I slowly let go of those dreams of rock star glory and allowed the god of my youth to fade away. Sometimes though, even after all these years, bits of it still pop up.

I was reminded of this part of my history today when our Bible study was reading in Acts chapter 8 about Simon the Magician (aka Simon Magus, aka Simon the Sorcerer). Simon was a rock star in ancient Samaria. "He boasted the he was someone great, and all the people high and low gave him their attention... They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic." (8:9-12)

There was a great Christian revival movement going on in Samaria and Simon got swept up in it. He became a follower of Jesus. But he soon got into trouble. He saw the apostles Peter and John imparting the Holy Spirit to people through the laying on of hands (apparently with dramatically visible manifestations) and inquired of the apostles if they would give him this ability, in exchange for money. Peter rebuked him sharply, saying "May your money perish with you!" and told him that his heart was not right before God and that he needed to repent and pray for forgiveness. To this day, the practice of purchasing a position of influence within the church is known as the sin of simony.

Although Simon the Magician is often portrayed as a villain (and a whole corpus of legendary tales later developed about him becoming an arch-heretic and enemy of the church), I can relate to the guy. He was just doing what magicians do: "Hey, that's a cool trick! How much would you charge to teach it to me?"

Simon's baggage was showing.

In Acts 8:24, Simon responds to Peter's rebuke by saying, in essence, "Pray for me!" There is some ambiguity in Simon's response to Peter and, because of that, many theologians have extrapolated that Simon's repentance was only superficial--that he was more worried about being punished by God than with actually having a change of heart. But I don't see it that way. I see in Simon a guy who--despite becoming a Christian--still wanted to be a rock star and was beginning the sometimes painful process of letting go of that thing by which he had previously defined himself.

But maybe that's because I see a little bit of myself in Simon the Musician. I mean, uh, Magician.


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