Acts 8:14-17 is an interesting and unusual passage. Unusual because it seems to be such a short reading that has been lifted completely out of its context. On the other hand, it's brevity forces the reader to focus on what the text is saying or not saying which makes it interesting...or at least I found it interesting.
For me, the obvious question is why didn't the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit with baptism. We are told that they received the word of God and been baptized in the name of Jesus. Why was it that the Spirit was withheld? This is made the more intriguing when you remember that when Peter went to Cornelius' house, there God poured out the Spirit before anyone was baptized. So what gives?
Well, I agree with Gerhard Krodel who wrote:
"The anomaly of a separation of Baptism from the gift of the Holy Spirit occurred (verse 16) so that the representatives of the apostles would experience the breakdown of the barrier between believing Jews and believing Samaritans."
Put simply, the reason God made it necessary for the apostle's to go to Samaria and check out the stories of the Samaritan baptisms and be personally involved in the Samaritans reception of the Holy Spirit was so that they (the apostles) would get the message that God could and would work outside the boundaries and limits that we human beings would like to impose on one another and on God. Those who had been enemies were now not just friends, but family, brothers and sisters in Christ. That would have shaken things up a bit.
I also like the idea that the apostles had to cross the border, leaving behind the comforts of Judea and Jerusalem, to enter Samaria and face all their preconceived ideas regarding God, cleanliness, religion and society. Not a comfortable journey, I am sure.
Both of these points raise some legitimate questions for us today. What limits do we place on God? On his good news? What boundaries do we need to cross to reach others with the grace and love of God? Is God once again demonstrating that he will work as he wills and not according to our expectations of him?