Saturday, May 15, 2010



Yesterday I was reading about Saint Paul’s missionary visit to Ephesus in Chapter 19 of Acts. The Holy Spirit was descending on people there, and Paul was doing all sorts of great things: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).

Paul's exorcisms must have been impressive sights, impressive enough at least to inspire some local exorcists to try their hand at using the name of Jesus themselves. With more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek Luke describes what happened when they did:

"Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.(Acts 19:13-16)


I love the way the evil spirit challenges the exorcists. Here is my pretty accurate translation from the Greek: “Jesus I know, Paul I’m acquainted with, but you, who the heck are you?”
These guys were just using word-magic, a well-known device for battling demons in the ancient Greek and Jewish world. But this particular demon was having none of it: mere words don’t always work on demons. So then, what did Paul have that they didn’t?

The answer is obviously that for Paul Jesus Christ was not a name but a person with whom he had this incredibly deep and loving relationship, someone for whom he was eventually going to lay down his very life. For him there was a vibrant personal dimension that gave power to Jesus' name. It makes me think of that beautiful hymn:

All hail the power of Jesus' name! Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown him Lord of all.

And then there are those verses from a hymn in Philippians,

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-10)

Well, those seven Jewish exorcists were simply mouthing a magical incantation, and were not the least bit interested in knowing Jesus himself or giving Him glory. The “power of Jesus’ name,” which makes angels fall prostrate and Christians bend their knee in adoration, evidently depends on our deep, committed faith.

The point I took from the story for myself was something like this: I can sing psalms and recite sacred prayers until I’m hoarse, but they’ll be nothing but hollow incantations if I don’t pray them with deep conviction, if I’m not living my life as if Jesus truly is my personal friend and savior. "The power of Jesus name" comes only after I proclaim with my actions that he is my personal Lord, only after I give up my arrogance and pride and bend my knee and sing, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

I just imagined this unsettling scene: I'm standing in my place in the monastic choir praying the intercessions with my brothers at the end of Lauds some morning. I'm rattling off the response to the petitons, "Lord, help us with your power." Suddenly I hear a mysterious, mighty voice saying "Father Mark on your left I know, and Father Maynard to your right I'm well acquainted with. But you, who the heck are YOU?"

Yikes! That got my attention! Maybe it'll get yours too...

....................Ethiopian Christ in Glory

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