Not by Magic

By Sarah Cornwell

Reading from Acts, 19:11-20

11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so 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. 13Then 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.” 14Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16Then 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. 17When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.


At first blush, it may seem that there is some considerable overlap between magic and the Christian religion. The priest waves his hands over the bread and wine, mutters an incantation, and presto: Communion. The priest mutters words over water (maybe even blows on it), and then sprinkles it over a person’s head, and abracadabra: a new Christian. The priest wears a robe, the bishop wears a funny hat — add a wand, and we have wizards in a Christian fairy tale.

But today’s reading sets the record straight: this is not how it works. Christianity is not magic. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest attempt to cast out demons in the name of one in whom they don’t believe. Words and gestures are not enough. Even the demon corrects this misconception in the well-intentioned but foolish men! Magic is a poor substitute for the power and mystery of faith in Jesus Christ. The former distorts reality and turns things into what they’re not; faith reveals what truly is.

There are many well-intentioned among us who continue to seek magical solutions to rid ourselves of demons. Aisles of self-help books attest to this. Some may provide a little relief, but their spells and practices cannot root out the sin in us — the dark beast that eats away at our soul, the demon that has sway unless we’re delivered by grace. Let us continue to witness to the saving power of grace in our own lives so that others may see the glory of true redemption which may be lacking in their lives. If demons can recognize true from false, so too can any person made in God’s image.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have five children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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