(Acts 16.16-34, Ps97, Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-end, 22 – 22.5 & John 17.20-end – Year C)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As followers of Jesus we have the enormous benefit that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can pray to the Father through Jesus Christ the Son. He prayed for us at the Last Supper that we would be one. It is a real sense of abiding in Jesus, and because the Son and the Father are One, we can trust in a deep sense of peace. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, rather than if and when they do, we will not be alone.
We get a sense of what this means in our reading from Acts, a passage which tells of the saving of four people. In the middle there is the miraculous physical saving of Paul and Silas, which is book-ended by the spiritual saving of the slave-girl, and the jailer.
Let’s begin with the exorcism of the slave-girl, described as having a spirit of divination. She was being used by her owners to deliver pronouncements, to read the future, using a supernatural ability for cash. Although Paul initially tried to ignore her, eventually he decided to take action, and invoking the name of Jesus, he is shown to have greater spiritual power.
In his writings Luke often showed, side by side, in the healings of Christ and the Apostles, both physical and spiritual salvation, linking them as part of the same liberation; and we see this pattern again today. All involved are imprisoned in some way.
The girl’s healing was not just about her spiritual and mental state. It was also about her abuse, treated as nothing more than a commodity by those who owned her. The response of her masters is one that is often displayed by those who feel enraged when they lose power, status or control. As the saying goes “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
They dragged Paul and Silas to the magistrates and rather than explain what they had actually done, they accused them of being mischief-makers and of disturbing the peace by bringing in new ways of doing things (i.e. Christianity). The result was that they were beaten and thrown into jail. And it is into this place of darkness that Paul and Silas take the light of Christ, as we hear of the saving of the jailer and his household.
We can only guess at what happened the night before the earthquake. There is more to the jailer’s reaction than simply seeing two prisoners not making an opportunistic escape. The actions that Luke described before the earthquake are just as important to this story.
Despite the brutal treatment, Paul and Silas sang praises to the Lord, demonstrating great trust in the Lord, a spiritual triumph over adversity. Their evangelism was heard throughout the prison, no doubt by the jailer himself. Their witness to God may already have started to sink in…
Then the dramatic moment of the earthquake…and the jailer, fearing shame and punishment prepared to commit suicide. But Paul prevented harm even against his opponent, the man who had been holding him prisoner.
Paul and Silas showed general witness to God, and individual, personal acts of Christian love – and it lead to the man trembling, on his knees asking for salvation.
Sometimes we are like the slave-girl, bound by chains, held in submission, or possessed by thoughts and feelings which we do not want.
Sometimes we are like the jailer, thinking that we are in control until the moment we know our need for God.
Either way, we can be like Paul and Silas and trust in God. Sing praises when you can, or be open to ask ‘what must I do to be saved?’ God already holds you in the palm of his hand, and has already given given you perfect freedom.
Jesus loves you, and even in the depths of difficulties, when the ground is shaking beneath your feet, His grace and love is there, holding and supporting you.
I want to end today with a meditation by St Teresa of Avila, words which I think sum up the great trust that Paul and Silas showed in the prison, words which I hope will inspire you:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.
(Artwork: Paul and Peter in Prison, Baptizing Other Prisoners. Artist unknown, source: Benziger Brothers, 1904)