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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, September 15, 2020  

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

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

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)

With all the moving pieces in this story I can’t help but wonder what happened to the enslaved woman at the beginning who, once delivered from her affliction, no longer brings money in for her captors. The Women’s Bible Commentary says that “once Paul silences the slave girl, she is forgotten. The focus of the story shifts to the loss of income her owners suffer because of her silence. . . . The slave girl vanishes completely from the purview of the narrative. What becomes of her life after Paul silences her divination? Is she returned to the slave market once her economic value to her owners disappears?”

Which causes me to ask of myself: What happens to those I minister to once I’ve moved on from their lives? Have I helped put systems in place for people to experience liberation far beyond my own healing touch? While my heart may be pure, these last few months have shown us that impact can have more lasting effects than intent.

As we’re seeing over the course of 2020—between a global pandemic, the rise of demonstrations against social injustices, and so much more—the issues people are facing in their lives are so much more complex and nuanced than just casting a spirit out of someone in a marketplace. So while we’re taking the small actions, let’s always be working towards the big cultural and systemic shifts so that no one has to vanish from the narrative of liberation.

You know our hearts, God. Help reveal to us the impact of our actions regardless of our intent. Open our eyes to see the one who usually vanishes within the narrative, and empower us to build systems and structures for them to thrive within once the demons are banished from their lives. Amen.

Written by Lois Snavely, Former Seminary Intern

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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