Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
1 Peter 3.15-18
Today, we're going to do things a little different. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles leaves out several verses, which I think enhance the meaning of the final four verses that were read. So, I'm going to ask one of you to read the first reading again as it is in the lectionary, omitting the highlighted verses. Read it once more, this time including the highlighted verses.
Acts 8:5-8, 9-13,14-17
5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. 8So there was great joy in that city.
9Now a certain man named Simon had previously practised magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ 11And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But 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. 13Even 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.
14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Before I say a few words on this, I'd like to hear what impact you think leaving out these verses has on your understanding or interpretation of the reading.
[Paused for responses from the community]
When read as a whole, this passage describes conversion and the ongoing journey of faith. I can relate to Simon as myself, and as the persons, places or things that we may think are magic. But once we begin to hear the call of God, we recognize that things we thought were magic are just illusions produced by deception or sleight of hand. They are only temporary diversions for us, if we are works in progress.
At the Easter Vigil, we renewed our Baptismal vows as a sign that we have accepted accepted God's call. Acceptance of God's call is the door that opens us to deepen our faith and our commitment. It's a done deal that invites us to accept that we're not done. Baptism or accepting God's invitation predisposes us to receive the promptings of the Holy Spirit. For example, Sister Lorraine facilitated a prayer group where she asked us to pray for a person who was a problem for us; to pray for them as God would. I know we're all works in progress but, like Simon, I was amazed by Sister Lorraine's ability to pray for even those who distressed her.
To return to the example, I chose to pray for a certain Monsignor with whom I am not on the best of terms to say the least. I would begin to pray as I thought God would. Then, my prayer would lapse into negatives like: “But he this and but he that.” Prompted by the Holy Spirit, I would at some time catch myself and continue to pray for him as I though God might. This prayer-negative thoughts-prompt-return to prayer routine repeated for the whole time we were at prayer.
Our faith journeys are like that. Good starts, interruptions, and prompting by the Holy Spirit to start again. The interruptions are the Simon's illusions of magic in our lives. So for me, the message of the second reading is that our spiritual lives are a process. The process begins with being opened to receive, and then, the challenge of ongoing receptivity to the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and the acceptance that we are always-- works in progress.