Summary: Paul and Silas are imprisoned. But so is the woman with the demon and the jailer who jails them
Jailbreak (The Free and the not so free)
Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring Acts and the way the church has spread throughout the world in the earliest days of Christianity. From Peter and the disciples standing up to the authorities, to Joppa, where Saul, an new believer is baptized, to Peter realizing God had included Gentiles, to Paul finding the women at the river and the conversion of Lydia, to now, Paul freeing slaves of demons and bringing hope to a jailer.
What is interesting in this passage is that there are three sets of people in bondage.
The first person we encounter is a woman who is both a slave filled with an evil spirit. She is being exploited by her owners, whose own best interests are served by her physical and spiritual enslavement.
We don’t know if it is the spirit driving her to follow Paul and Silas, or if it is her own desire to be free. But for whatever reason, Paul and Silas manage to finally get annoyed enough to do something.
Now, I would love to imagine that all good things that happen are because of the kindness of people’s heart. In this case, it really doesn’t sound like that is what happened. Paul was simply annoyed, and commanded that she be free of the spirit.
While Paul’s intentions might not have been the best, we need to realize that God’s intentions for the woman enslaved by humankind and spirits was for her best. And with Paul’s words, God brought healing to the woman.
Which, of course, stirred up trouble.
Her rich and powerful owners were unhappy. So much so that they stirred up the crowd. Without a trial, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and imprisoned. The only reason for imprisonment was to await further punishment, perhaps even a death sentence once a proper trial could be held.
We see this a lot in our world today. There will always be those who put their money making above the freedom of others. Their money gives them power. And they use it against those who they see are in their way.
A key example of this at the moment involves the pharmaceutical companies that developed the opioids that are at the heart of more than 1900 lawsuits against them. These companies are accused of misleading doctors and the public about how addictive these pain killers were, but also for giving kickbacks to doctors and insurance companies, encouraging their distribution. The Opioid Crisis isn’t because they are so bad, it is because they are so easy to get.
And while I mention these companies, we all are aware of how our world today exists. The rich and the powerful can use their money and influence to remain rich and powerful. And they leave those who are outside of the circle enslaved.
We see this in corporate structures that give CEOs millions, and leave the workers at minimum wages, barely able to survive.
We see this in the way farmers and ranchers are often left barely able to cover the costs of planting and harvesting crops, or raising animals. And yet, there are always those at the top that profit.
Here, we find Paul and Silas encountering that rule. They offended someone rich and powerful, and there were consequences.
The second person we find who is imprisoned is the jailor.
He and his family are part of the worker class. As long as they did everything right, they were safe. But given an unexpected happening, and their very lives were at stake. He was given the specific task of keeping Paul and Silas in prison. If something happened on his watch, the same owners would demand someone pay the price for their escape.
Once the gates swung open, his immediate response was to kill himself, hoping that it would spare his family from suffering with him whatever fate they had intended for Paul and Silas.
And then the truth dawns – well, Paul and Silas call out to him. All is well, we are still here. By remaining, they saved his life and likely the lives of his family. No wonder the guard was so open to what they had to say.
Hear his words, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul responds that he only need to believe in Jesus.
Nothing to do, only something to accept. Jesus had died for us. Now we just had to accept the gift.
Sometimes it seems to simple. Shouldn’t we be telling people what they need to DO? Well, Doing happens after believing. God reaches out with grace before we even know enough to say Yes. God is always waiting, always reaching out, always desiring us to come to Him.