When Debbie Ocean is released from prison she promises not to contact any of her crooked friends. Yes. And pigs might fly. Whilst doing porridge she has been plotting her next hustle. A massive diamond necklace heist. Worth 150 million dollars. She assembles a crew of 7, each with their own special skill. Debbie and her mates are pass-masters at trickery and sleight of hand. They can run off with your watch, your wallet, your jewellery and most likely the shirt off your back, if you’ll just turn and look the wrong way for 15 seconds.
When sorcerer Simon tries to hustle his way into the kingdom of God he hits a wall. At first things seem to be going well for him, in Acts 8 vv 9-25, he appears to make a genuine change in his life when he meets two disciples of Jesus. He changes direction. Renews his thinking. But then, on seeing the power demonstrated by Peter and john, his old ego kicks in. He was known as a cool mover, and doesn’t fancy being upstaged, left behind, by these two guys, so he offers them hard cash for a piece of the action. He wants a part in this, and is prepared to hustle his way to glory. No dice. Peter and John see through this offer immediately. The kingdom of God is not up for auction, Simon can’t trick, scam or hustle his way in. No amount of money will buy a ticket. This is about a gift. A genuine honest offer, humbly accepted, something Simon finds a little baffling. He wants it, but on his own terms.
The fresh start with Jesus goes against the grain, cuts through the spin and fake news of modern life. It appears naïve, uncool, yet is the most precious of things. It is on offer, not to the highest bidder, but in a sense to the lowest of bidders. The crushed, the ordinary, the hungry, those who know their need of it. Those willing to set aside all wrangling and trading, in favour of open hands and the desire to see what God might bring into our lives. My ego regularly bumps against this whole thing, it’s not easy to accept this offer of a free gift, I want to earn it, to work for it, to prove myself, to feel justified in accepting it, to buy or pay for it. Like Simon. We do all kinds of things. But in the end we can’t blag our way in, or boast of being worthy of it. It’s something we can only open our hands to, each moment, each day, the free gift of God. Debbie Ocean and her talented crew might be able to hustle pretty much anything, but they could never hustle their way into this kingdom. That’s about something else entirely.