Kneeling to God, standing to men- Tuesday, 6th Week of Easter – Acts Acts 16:22-34
Even though today’s pericope begins at verse 22 and end at 34 it is better if one reads the entire section from verse 16 to 40 in order to get a better understanding. The Acts of the Apostles records the second incident that takes place in Philippi.
Paul and Silas are once again on their way to pray at the very area that they met Lydia ( of the previous narrative)This time they are followed by a slave girl who has the ability of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by telling peoples fortunes.
It is she who proclaims that Paul and Silas “are slaves of the Most High God” and we are told she does this for many days, following them around. As a consequence, Paul in annoyance casts out in the name of Christ, the spirit that dwells within her making her unable to tell peoples fortunes anymore and thus causing a huge loss to her owners.
Why does Paul get annoyed? There is no reason for him to be annoyed because she is following them, after all she hails them as “slaves of the Most High God”, a title found often in Luke-Acts ( Luke 1:31,35,76 etc) The answer is found in the second part of her address for she then goes on to say that Paul and Silas “proclaim a way of salvation” Clearly, the words “a” way suggest that this is on one of many ways to be saved and not “ the way” of salvation and Paul and Silas preach only a way to salvation, namely Jesus.
As a result of the huge financial loss, the owners, now upset with Paul and Silas, seize and drag them to the marketplace before the magistrate. Ironically they never mention the loss caused to them as a result of this slave girl being ‘set free’ from the spirit. It is a series of trumped up charges that the owners bring against Paul and Silas accusing them of disturbing the city, practicing customs that are not lawful and imposing a Jewish way of life on Roman citizens.
No fair trial is conducted , for had it been done so then the accusations would have been proven false for we know that Paul and Silas were both Roman citizens ( as they will later declare in 16: 37) But for the moment lawlessness and greed whipped up by racial and religious profiling take centre stage over truth. It reminds me of many nations in the world where people undergo religious persecutions under the guise of breaking civil law; charges that are bigoted and have no reality in truth. This is even more ironic when these nations are secular and democratic in their constitutions but bigoted in their practice of religious politics.
Paul and Silas are not only beaten with rods but are placed in the innermost cell; their feet shackled in chains. Yet in their pain and anguish they are praying and singing hymns to God. Take a moment to let this sink in. What is it that we do in moments of pain and anguish? For Paul and Silas they did what they knew brought them comfort; they turned to the Lord and the Lord releases them from prison by shaking the very foundations of the earth. That is what God does for us when we cry to Him; He shakes the earth for us.
The jailer, supposing that the prisoners had escaped, is about to take his own life knowing that he will be punished for dereliction of duty. He is stopped by Paul and Silas from taking his life. They have been freed but they have not run away. The jailer is so moved by this great incident that he washes the wounds of the apostles asking them to help him to be saved and we are told that he and his household are baptised.
The narrative now enters its third and final phase. In the morning the magistrate releases Paul and Silas only to be told that they refuse to go because they are Roman citizens and a grave injustice has been done to them. Realizing that he had acted in haste and punished a Roman citizen without both a fair trial and an unjustified beating, the magistrate makes haste and comes to the apostles, apologising and asking them to leave the city. It is wonderful to see the apostles stand their ground in the face of tyrannical and unjust rule.
In all of this the slave girl has disappeared for there is no more mention made of her. She who had no real power, no status, was a slave to both a number of people who profited from her and to a spirit that tormented her. Although the Bible makes no mention of what happens to her we know she is set free.
Fr Warner D’souza
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