Monday 29 May 2017

Bible Book:

“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.” (v. 26)

Acts 16:16-34 Monday 29 May 2017

Psalm: Psalm 15


This week we continue our reading of Acts, and we follow Paul onhis missionary journeys around the Aegean Sea, visiting towns andcities predominantly in Greece and Asia Minor. In this passage Paulwas with Silas and Timothy in Philippi in Macedonia. This was theirfirst major stop in the Aegean mission, and the writer (probablythe author of the third Gospel, traditionally believed to be thedisciple, Luke) was keen to stress that this was Graeco-Romanterritory and a strongly gentile context.

As in his Gospel, Luke demonstrates a particular concern forwomen. The first convert in Phillippi was a wealthy proselyte woman(Luke 16:11-15) and the second person to beliberated was a gentile slave-girl. She is described in sometranslations as having a "spirit of Python" (v. 16), which refersto snake protecting the Delphic Oracle and Temple of Apollo onMount Parnassus. Priestesses in the cult were said to have thepower of clairvoyance. Whether the girl's foreknowledge was genuineor an elaborate confidence trick, she was simply a puppet in thehands of her owners, who seem to have profited greatly fromher.

There are several episodes in Luke's Gospel in which Jesusdemonstrates God's power over Jewish magic; here his apostledemonstrated God's power over pagan magic. But the real victory wasover the greed that leads human beings to control, oppress and evenown one another for the sake of financial gain. In freeing the girlfrom this way of life, Paul also exposed the unscrupulous avariceof her owners; the greatest opposition to the gospel is notnecessarily in colourful acts of defiance, but in the routinepursuit of moneymaking at all costs.

Perhaps it is to emphasise the freedom offered by the gospel,that the subsequent conversion story is set in a prison. Theslave-girl's owners took revenge by falsely accusing the apostles,getting them flogged and imprisoned (verses 19-24). This sets thescene for the conversion of the gaoler.

It is hard to tell what most touched him; the divine power thatopens prison doors and looses chains (verse 26), or the humancompassion of the apostles, who chose not to escape (verse 28) andtherefore protected him from punishment and ruin. Perhaps the pointis the union of divine power and human compassion.

Liberation is linked to cleansing, and at the end of the passagethe gaoler washed the wounds of the apostles, who responded bywashing the gaoler and his family in the water of Baptism. Thissignifies their liberation from the imperial system that controlsand punishes and their release into the kingdom of God, who healsand restores.

To Ponder

  • Take some time to step back and consider society - whataccepted and authorised practices of moneymaking or which of ourpolitical systems might, in fact, be opposed to gospel values offreedom and healing? How might you work to expose them?
  • Have you ever had an experience of divine power and humancompassion? What impact has it made on you?
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