During the last supper, Jesus looked to heaven and began to pray. He prayed about his own upcoming death, and prayed for his disciples. He asked God to protect his disciples and sanctify them with God’s own truth. Today we over hear the conclusion of his prayer of intercession… John 17:20-26
There are a few places in Acts where the author, Luke breaks out of using names and refers to “we.” Who is “we?” Scholars aren’t wholly certain, but generally, they presume Luke means himself and Paul, and a few other traveling companions. Luke writes… Acts 16:16-34
Jesus prays for us that we may all be one. God the Father in God the Son, in us – and somewhere the Holy Spirit in this mix too – and all of us rolled into one. Unified in glory, and knowledge, and truth, and sanctity.
Our UCC denomination was formed with these versus, and our official logo has the words, “That they may be one.”
And then… then we see this in action… and it disturbs me. Paul, Silas and Luke – maybe some more disciples – are preaching. They go from their place of sleeping to the place of prayer — a synagogue or a quarter set aside for the city temples and shrines. But every day, the whole way they walk, a little girl follows them yelling, “These men are slaves of the Most High God! They proclaim to you a way of salvation!” And she’d want paid for her work.
Paul, the slave of God, turns to this girl, a slave of owners who are using her divination powers for cash, and Paul is incredibly annoyed with her. He exorcises her and removes the divination spirit from her. She was cured? Saved?
No. Not at all. She is now a slave girl with no powers. She is still in chains. But now she’ll have to do new work for her owners. Maybe worse work. She completely drops out of the story.
Her owners enter the story next. They’re angry that their hope of money making is gone. They get a crowd together, and capture Paul and Silas, and drag them to the marketplace to answer to the magistrates – the area authorities. They don’t say Paul and Silas took money from them – instead, they claim “These guys are disturbing the peace. They’re not locals. They don’t want us to be Romans!” Fear of outsiders rule, and although Silas and Paul ARE Romans, they’re stripped, beaten, and thrown in the deepest part of the jail locked in stocks.
Now the slave girl is in chains of slavery. And these two are in chains for being slaves of God.
An earthquake comes in the middle of the night. It’s so strong it knocks about the foundation of the prison and “everyone’s chains were unfastened.”
The poor prison guard knows he’s done for. He’s gonna get killed by the magistrates for losing every single prisoner in one night. As he goes to commit suicide rather than being tortured to death, maybe crucified, Paul yelled out from the deepest dungeon, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!”
The jailer called for lights, took the torches down, and found everyone still there. He asks, “What must I do to be saved?”
Saved from what? Saved from the magistrates? Saved from the earthquake? Saved from sin?
“Believe on the Lord Jesus.” Paul and Silas answer. And then, they continue to preach to the prisoners and the prison guard. The prison guard takes them to his house and treats their wounds. He goes from their jailer to their servant, or slave.
But what of that slave girl who started all of this?
We’re told EVERYONE’S chains are released. All prisoners, all captives, are set free. The guard is set free from fear of shame and death. Paul and Silas are set free from a physical prison. The girl was set free of a spiritual prison… and perhaps, at this time, set free of her social prison of slavery. Perhaps with the fateful earthquake all are set free of their prisons – internal or external.
I don’t know. I hope so.
I hope this story is about how we all become one in God through being set free of our individual prisons. I’m sad Paul doesn’t identify with the girl who is enslaved. But we all are BECOMING one. It takes awhile. It takes us time to really see one another, and love and accept one another, and rejoice and cry with each other. Maybe Paul was imprisoned. And when the quake comes, he sees this error. Perhaps that is why he reaches out to the jailer and welcomes him as one into the fold.
I’m reminded that Jesus prayed for unity over Judas, who was plotting to betray everyone. And Simon, the Zealot, who wants to militarily take Israel back from Rome. There’s Matthew who is or was content enough with Rome to work as their tax collector. Meanwhile, a whole slew are brothers and cousins who worked as fishermen. Some are dreaming of sitting beside Jesus’ throne. Some have argued who will be greatest. Peter will deny Jesus. Thomas will doubt his brothers.
These are not unified and perfect people. They are not one.
They are becoming one.
And the one unifying them is Jesus.
Paul, Silas, Luke, the slave-girl and jailer and prisoners and families – they are not unified people who can view one another as brothers and sisters.
They’re working on it.
The chains that bind us – this individualism – this my people before your people. The chains of being scared and against those who are different than ourselves – those chains take time to break.
But God sure breaks them!
Like an earthquake, abruptly, unexpectedly, God’s spirit moves and we find ourselves changing.
Deep in our prisons light arrives and we are invited out to have our wounds tended.
Jesus prays we become one – and we are. May the Spirit ever nudge us towards greater unity!