Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Substitute Acts Passage – Exciting times, and not so exciting

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.” (Acts 16:16)

I became aware, beloved reader, of a change in perspective of the writer of the book of Acts. At first the perspective was “they” and “them” and at some point it changed to “we” and “us”, as the writer joined the journey along the way – which I think actually he did. What took me off guard was the the change just . . . . happened. No foreshadowing or announcement that he joined Paul. The shift happened in the midst of the telling of Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia asking for someone to come; this happened after they went down to Troas. But rather than lingering on this point, let us catch up to Paul and company.

“While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.” (Verses 17 – 18)

I did have to wonder why this slave girl annoyed Paul. While she spoke the truth, after a fashion, it was not testimony born of free will and knowledge of the Lord but the mischief of the Evil One that dogs the steps of God’s ministers. That, if you cannot tell, was a pretty good paraphrase of what the biblical commentators said. My take on it was that Paul saw her captivity to the demon and the profit that her owners were making off her distress and possession, and decided to put an end to it.

“But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” (Verses 19 – 21)

I could give again a biblical commentator’s observation on this, but . . . . that is a way of thinking that I just cannot call my own. Paul’s action was borne of compassion for the slave girl and a desire to free her soul and spirit. The slave girl’s owner’s response was borne of greed and callousness to another human being. It is fits in line with Paul’s preaching of salvation and freedom from sin. The consequences of Paul’s actions also fits into the broader theme of the disciples and apostles of Jesus being threatened, oppressed, and punished for preaching. And by the end of the story, the resilience and determination of Paul and his company, and the protection that was afforded them.

“The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.” (Verses 22 – 27)

Some comments and commentary need to be interjected here. First, remember that the writer of the book of Acts wanted his audience, Theophilus, to know what was going on with the apostles and disciples after Jesus returned to heaven. And for Theophilus to understand these things, and perhaps the reason, rationale, and message that the disciples and apostles shared to others. So if it seems that every little turn in the road is described and narrated, it is because the writer of the book of Acts wanted to make sure that all was told – no detail or circumstance left out.

Second, that the jailer was responsible for his prisoners; not to tend to them carefully and compassionately. But to ensure that the desires and demands of the Roman state in punishing the prisoners was met and carried out. A jail break would mean the jailer would pay painfully with his life.

“But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Verses 28 – 30)

There is quite a leap here, and not well narrated so that the average reader might understand the circumstances. Paul and Silas saved the jailer’s life by assuring him there was no reason for the Roman state to exact any punishment. AND that the power that Paul and Silas had outweighed what the Roman state could do. What I think the jailer was asking was how he could be protected and redeemed by the protection that Paul and Silas had.

“They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.” (Verses 31 – 34)

How many of you, beloved reader, have had as much action and drama in your Christian lives? If you are like me, these “high moments” are far and few between. It would almost seem that our tame and normal lives do not carry the impact that Paul and his companions had on their world. Have we ever saved someone from slavery and demon possession? No. Have we had our beliefs and convictions tested? No. Has the Divine’s power and strength been exerted so visibly on our behalf? Probably not. It tempts me to drop all that I am doing and rush out to live a life that makes such a powerful statement. The mundane and minutiae of my life peeks at me from around the corner, and I know rather than go off on a wild trajectory I will follow the worn path that I have tread before. My life is not a New Testament story. But it is a story lived out in light of God given truths. And I guess for now that will have to suffice. Shalom.

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