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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, August 1, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 16:25–40

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed. (NRSV)

For the authorities in this story, it is Paul and Silas’s Roman citizenship that gives the two of them legitimacy and makes the authorities willing to let them go. That’s not what’s important for the jailer though. Nor is it their possible might that impresses him: we have no reason to believe the jailer thinks they are the cause of the earthquake. No, it’s the mercy they offer, the generosity they show him as they place his well-being above theirs, above their freedom. This is what opens his eyes to their message. The power of an act of extraordinary, unbelievable kindness.

I think many of us could share stories where unexpected kindness, whether from a single person or accumulated over time, has the ability to open our eyes to see things new. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? For most of us, our belief is mediated through people: the examples we are given, the encounters we have, the communities we are part of. How has your faith changed as the result of another’s kindness? How will your mercy shape others?

Gracious Lord, give me eyes open to see and a heart willing to accept change. Amen.

Written by Anne Ellis, Program Manager for Congregational Life

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