Text: Acts 19:11-20
To avoid magical thinking
To not try to manipulate God, but be brought into his work
For those who practice magic and idolatry
THE EXPERIENCE OF THE EXORCISTS, along with the reference to magical materials, is an important reminder that the core issue Paul confronts in Ephesus is idolatry. To oversimplify, idolatry is the desire to elevate to ultimate status things that are not ultimate, with the expectation that those things will serve human ends. In the long story of humanity, we have made idols of everything that is in creation to serve human ends: fertility, military power, economic security, social standing, and more. Even the current practice of magic, while different from ancient forms in certain ways, starts in an idolatry of the individual self that expects to project personal power to affect the world. Acts, like the Gospel of Luke, roots idolatry in greed, and should always make us ask what is fueling a desire for good fortune and success.
The Jewish exorcists in our story are an illustration of idolatry. Most magical practices teach that knowing the name of another being, whether natural or supernatural, gives the name-holder potential control over that being. With the name—and certain incantations—the magician can accomplish his or her goals. Having seen what Paul did in the name of Jesus, they try to appropriate the name for their own purposes, which include charging people money for their work. This event demonstrates that the name of Jesus cannot be used independent of the Lord’s own good purposes—you simply cannot bend the name of Jesus to accomplish what you want. His name is given to his followers, those who have been made a part of the kingdom of God and who are walking in the way of Jesus Christ.
We are tempted to magical thinking when we believe that we can, by our words or deeds, manipulate our Lord into doing what we want. The prayer of the child of God is always the prayer of Jesus himself: Lord, not what I will, but what you will—let your will be done in my life, to your glory.
May your day be grace-filled ~ Pr. Dave Brooks