6/3/2019 1:37:25 PM
Posted under: Commentary New Testament Acts
Today's reading from the books of Acts 16:16-34 is a story filled with tension that would fit in something like Game of Thrones. If we let the words from this text fill our imagination, we can watch a vivid drama filled with special effects. A slave girl, possessed by a spirit, follows Paul and Silas for days. A dark dungeon is filled with the sound of hymns and the crashing of bricks as an earthquake shakes the entire city. A jailer considers suicide before a faith-filled intervention causes an entire household to be baptized. There is a lot going on in this text. So what part of the story jumps out to you?
For me, I find myself drawn to the slave girl. On one level, she embodies the theme of bondage found throughout this passage. Everyone is bound by something: either by a spirit, the violence of the Roman Empire, or the lure of wealth and money. She is, however, the only one who lives her life enslaved in a non-metaphorical way. She has no control over the violence done to her body and she remains nameless throughout this story. The spirit compels her to annoy Paul and Silas for several days by affirming what they already know. After a few days, Paul casts the spirit out of her. His annoyance at her actions frees her from her bondage to the spirit but the act also endangered her. She's still a slave and her physical condition did not change. We never learn what happens to her and she leaves the scene still in bondage.
This text can help us ask difficult questions about the legacy of slavery, faith and freedom. We tend to define freedom based on the choices we make as individuals. Yet the community around us matters as well. The jailer, wrapped up in a way of life that demanded his death when a supernatural event freed every prisoner, ends up being freed from that system because every prisoner stayed. By working together, the community around Paul and Silas broke down a sway of life that had no problem inflicting violence on others. The life we are called to live is a life wrapped up in the people God has surrounded us with. The prisoners, together, refused to let the rules of violence be what defined them. Instead, they lived into the life God had freely given them. And we can see, I think, that if the slave girl had been truly freed, Paul and Silas would have seen more clearly the kind of life God wants everyone to have.
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