Scripture: Acts 16:16-24
Key verse: (19) “But when her owners say that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities.”
Reflection: Today’s reading from Acts is absolutely stunning in its brutally honest look at the ways of the world. It begins with a woman who is enslaved because she has “a spirit of divination.” She’s a fortune teller, and makes a lot of money for her owners. What a horrible life she must have had. She reminds me of women entrapped in trafficking schemes in our day and age. Her situation embodies the greed of the world.
Then there’s Paul. He is annoyed by this poor woman who keeps shouting out, “These men are slaves of the most high God.” He does not demonstrate any compassion for her, nor empathy or concern. Rather he’s simply aggravated by her. In his aggravation, he commands that evil spirit that gives her the ability to prophesy to come out of the woman. Paul embodies that busy-ness of the world that leaves us blind to compassion for our neighbors.
Then there are the woman’s owners. Their “money maker” is gone. They’ve lost their hope for profit. In their rage, they take Paul and Silas before the magistrate. They are not honest about their motives for punishing Paul and Silas. They do not say, “We can’t make money anymore because of these men.” Rather, they appeal to the civic good. “These men are disturbing the peace.” Then they get uglier, they turn to anti-Semitism. “They are Jews and are advocating un-Roman customs.” Apparently demagoguery through race-baiting is as old as the Bible. Their tactics get the crowd going, as such tactics usually do. That leads the magistrate to beat Paul and Silas with rods. This scene drips with greed, guile, racism, and downright brutality.
Yet in the midst of all this sin, a woman is saved. Amid the greed and self-absorption and demagoguery and depravity, a woman is freed from her enslavement in the name of Jesus. None of that can stop God’s power from working. That gives me hope that in the midst of the messes of our world, God’s power is working today to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free. That’s what Jesus said he’d come to do in Luke 4. By the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s what the Risen Christ is doing even now. And nothing in the world can stop him! Thanks be to God!
Prayer: In the midst of the messiness of this world, may your power work to free us from all that holds us captive. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].