Acts 16:16-34 • Psalm 97 • Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 • John 17:20-26
The Acts passage in this week's readings has provided another set of very human stories: the slave girl, Lydia; Paul, Silas and the other prisoners; and the jailer. First, Lydia, a God-fearing Gentile drawn to attend Jewish worship on the Sabbath, has her powers of divination stripped by Paul, who then faces the wrath of her owners and finds himself and his companion Silas in stocks in the innermost cell of the local prison. Next, in the night, when he and Silas begin singing, the other prisoners, perhaps some of whom were also unjustly locked up, stay awake to listen. Finally, the jailer, who thought he was running the prison, finds himself asking Paul what he should do.
There is much to learn from Lydia. She seems to be what we might call "spiritual," with some level of intuition unavailable to most of us. The intuition, however, is getting in her way. She cannot resist the urge to shout out her own particular awareness of what is happening around her. In a sense, she cannot separate herself from what she is seeing: an extreme case of the "if you see something, say something" axiom found in public transportation these days. The miracle of her healing is not that her insight was taken from her, but she has been able to separate herself from its power over her.
There is much to learn from Paul and Silas. Flogged, locked up, in stocks, and probably too uncomfortable from their wounds to sleep, they begin singing hymns. Here are two people who refuse to accept the narrative that they are powerless and the hopelessness that accompanies that view. Being Roman citizens may have helped them to see their circumstances as less than dire. Moreover, in the act of singing, they guard themselves against succumbing to despair. It seems to affect the other prisoners too, who begin listening, instead of mocking them or drifting off to sleep.
There is much to learn from the jailer. He has been told that these prisoners must be kept secure, and does his best to lock them down. Awakening to his worst nightmare – the doors of the prison flung open – he reaches for his sword to kill himself. Here is a person absolutely desperate and afraid. When he realizes that Paul and Silas have remained, in spite of their freedom to go, he rushes into them, eventually calming down enough to ask them what he should do to get out of this mess. At this point, the jailer begins to look like the straight man in a comedy routine, asking the question that sets up the ultimate response: believe in Jesus. Whatever piece of this he was able to apprehend, he had realized that these men were trustworthy, and takes them home with him to care for their wounds. Before the night was over, he and his household were baptized.
In all these stories, one consistent theme is that of recognizing one's own choices in being responsible for oneself. Lydia can choose to speak or not. Paul and Silas can choose how they see their imprisonment. The jailer can choose suicide or not. A related theme is the way that one's own choices impacts others. Lydia's openness to being healed sets up the whole sequence of events. Paul and Silas help each other through a long night. Their choice to stay in place after the earthquake, a move related to their own long-term goals, is lifesaving for the jailer. Being true to oneself brings new choices in the lives of others.
Psalm 97:11 Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
What choices do I have today, in terms of responsibility for myself, that might be hard to see?
When did I find new choices in my day?