Our story this week takes us to the city of Philippi, a Roman colony within Macedonia. Luke, who is the author of the Book of Acts tells us that Paul and some of his followers were evangelizing in the surrounding area when they become embroiled in a conflict that pits religious, economic and class forces against them. The Gospel frequently challenges systems of oppression, injustice and prejudice.
The dramatic series of events in this story begins with an exorcism. We are told of a teenage girl who was a slave. This girl was possessed by an evil spirit who used her as a means to convey clairvoyant messages, interpret various events of the day and predict the future for people. Today, we would call her a fortune teller, a medium, or a witch. This young slave girl was exploited for revenue by a group of unscrupulous owners whose only concern was the amount of money she make for them each day.
The girl begins to pursue Paul and company, crying out, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." Luke tells us that this girl pursued Paul and his group proclaiming this message for many days. Paul eventually becomes annoyed and commands the evil spirit to come out of the girl. " I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her."
We wonder why Paul didn't welcome this message. After all, what the girl said about them was true. Paul and his followers were servants of the Most High God, and they did proclaim the way to salvation through Jesus Christ. Yet remember what happened every time Jesus came into contact with a person who was possessed with an evil spirit. Jesus never allowed the person to give testimony to him. The Gospels all tell us that wherever Jesus went, the evil spirits would cry out, "Thou art the Son of the Most High God !" And Jesus would always cast out the evil spirits.
You see Satan always has two basic approaches to deceive us. He tries to display an apparent alliance with the Divine, or an outright attack. By trying to form an alliance with Paul through this girl who was possessed, Satan could eventually deceive people. It would not be long before the truth, (which was originally proclaimed by the girl to lead the people on) would begin to be mixed with the lies of Satan.
That is how people get sucked into astrology, fortune telling, the oji board and the occult which are all Satan's devices of deceit. It's the oldest sales tacit in the world. It's called bait and switch. You know it's like seeing one of those unbelievable ads in the newspaper for a new car. You look at the ad and say, "Wow ! That's cheap." You run down to the car dealership, you look at the car and ask, "Where's the rest of the car ?" And the salesman says, "Oh, you wanted tires, a windshield, doors, a hood, a roof and an engine ? Those are all extra." Usually if something seems too good to be true, it isn't true.
What happens next in this story becomes an issue of economics. Paul's exorcism has profound economic ramifications for the girl's owners . They can no longer make money with this girl. She has lost her fortune telling capabilities and this means a loss of income for her owners. They become angry and bring Paul and Silas before the local authorities where they are swiftly whipped and placed in prison.
That night in prison, Paul and Silas were locked away in the deepest and darkest of the prison cells with their feet in shackles and their backs bleeding from being whipped. They had suffered a great injustice. Yet in spite of this, they feel no self-pity. Instead, at midnight they begin to sing hymns and praise God. All the prisoners hear them singing. I imagine the jailer hears them too. Then suddenly there is an earthquake and the doors of the cells are opened and the chains come off the walls.
As I read this portion of Scripture, I had a mental image of just how that earthquake came about. I could envision God sitting up in heaven listening to Paul and Silas singing and clanging their chains to the beat of the music. The other prisoners start singing too. I can see God getting into the music, swaying with the beat, clapping his hands. God gets just a little carried away taps the Divine Foot just a little too hard to the beat of the music and wholah, you have an earthquake. What a worship service that must have been! An image of childhood flashes back to my mind of someone telling me during a violent thunderstorm that the noise from above was God getting a strike while bowling in heaåITTER~1HTM hhe two frogs kept on paddling and paddling throughout the night. By morning they were perched on a mass of butter which they had churned from all their paddling. There they both sat smiling as they ate all of the flies that came to feast on the sweet butter. Sometimes the only difference between freedom and slavery is in our minds.