Lessons for Teachers From the Sons of Sceva

This article was originally published in the CACE Blog on August 4, 2020.

Bet you don’t know who they are. I didn’t remember, not until I reread Acts 19 this morning.

The Apostle Paul is in Ephesus. Author Luke writes that the Lord is doing extraordinary miracles through Paul: “[E]ven handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12).

Sceva, the Jewish chief priest, and his seven sons must have seen Paul perform these miracles. They would have heard Paul say to the demon-possessed, “In the name of Jesus I command you to come out.”

“Hey, let’s try it!” the sons said. “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out” (Acts 19:16). This mimicry doesn’t end well for them.

I can imagine the excitement of these men if they had been in Jerusalem when Jesus himself healed a blind man by spitting on the ground, mixing the spittle into mud, and applying it to the man’s eyes. Then He told him, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So the man went and washed, and came back seeing (John 9:6).

Sceva’s sons, had they seen this miracle, would surely proceed throughout the land trying to replicate it. They would make some mud with their spit, smother it on the eyes of the blind, and . . . NOTHING.

“Hmmm . . . we forgot to tell them to go wash in the pool!”

Still NOTHING.

It would be worse if some blind patient of the Sceva clan had faith, and God, by His grace, actually did heal him. Rumors would spread and magnify throughout the land. Others would try and reproduce this miracle.

Of course, the copied attempts wouldn’t work. The imitators would try to decipher all the variables that could have contributed to the powerful method’s success. Each of Sceva’s sons might have developed his own following. The Eartholics proclaimed it was the kind of dirt you used. The Watertants insisted it was the acidity of the spit. (They also sold jars of water from the Pool of Siloam). The Chronocostals claimed it was the time of day, the phase of the moon, the position of the stars. The Temperaturians believed it was the specific heat of the mud, the air, and the water. And to the Applicationists, it was all about the method of applying the mud to the eye. “Left to right, brow to lash!”

Of course the agent of the healing was not in the mud, the spit, the water, the time, or the method. The miracle happened through the power of God working through the faith of the believer. This is a point we learn, often through failure, over and over in the classroom. We “teachers of Sceva” hear about a new method for teaching reading, for creating community, for classroom management—we might even see a teacher employ it next door with great success. And yet, when we try this technique in our classroom, it just doesn’t work.

We tend to focus on methods rather than our deep hopes, procedures rather than relationships, and techniques rather than understanding. We look for the curriculum that will motivate all students, the system that will ensure discipline and order, the Bible program that will lead all students to love the Lord.

When we adopt materials and methods without imagining their roots in God’s Story, we are like the man in the old tale looking at the finger pointing to the moon, rather than the moon itself. The more animated the finger, the more it attracts our attention. But the beauty, the mystery, the light, the power is in the moon—rather, in the One who created it. All we can do is bear witness. That’s what the moon does too. And that’s what Paul did.

Our pedagogy can swing with all the latest educational innovations. But if we try to serve the fruit without any knowledge of the root, we might deliver a tasty meal or two, but we will not sustain growth. When the fruit is gone, we will look for a new tree. There is no end to the “pointing fingers.”

If there is anything that actually works, it is the love God gives us for our students and the love we cultivate for God’s creation. When you love two dear friends, you long to have them meet—you will do everything you can to bring them together. Carol Ann Tomlinson called it the “love triangle” (illustration mine).

It’s the kind of love that never gives up, overcomes every obstacle, keeps finding a way like water inclined to the ocean or plants ascending to the sun. When one method doesn’t work, you try something else. And when that doesn’t work, you try something else. For a terrific example of this perseverance, watch how Mr. Holland (in the film Mr. Holland’s Opus) teaches Lou Russ to “find the beat.”

Think of this blog as a finger-pointing to God’s love. Ask this Root for more love—love for God, for the world, and for the students he made, and for his plan to “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).

Love finds a way. Love never fails.