16One 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. 17While 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.” 18She 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. 19But 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. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly 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. 27When 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. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He 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.
What I am Learning:
A slave girl called Paul and Silas "slaves of the Most High God." This slave girl was a slave in two ways: Internally and externally. The internal slavery was that she had a "spirit of divination" that took away her autonomy and her identity. The external slavery was that she was forced to make money for her "divination pimps."
This story is not just about how Paul healed one woman. It was a public act that challenged whole city to the ways they were exploiting the vulnerable.
While I might wish that Paul had been moved by compassion rather than annoyance, in the power of God he sets her free from her internal slavery. Her two owners saw that they could no longer make money from this girl, went to the magistrates and basically a riot ensued. When God made this woman free of her internal slavery her external slavery was exposed as an act of evil.
The whole city felt the sting of this exposure, and reacted with violence. Paul and Silas were stripped of their clothing and beaten with rods, no doubt causing much and lasting pain. The jailor was told to keep them locked up.
The earthquake opened the walls and freed Paul and Silas. In terror the jailor was preparing to kill himself for losing his prisoners, but Paul and Silas stayed in the remains of their cell. They refused to pay for their freedom with the price of the jailor's life.
So who are the real slaves? Who is really free?
Holding the deed to a slave does not make you free.
Holding the keys to a jail does not make you free.
The city, the slave owners, the other merchants, and the jailor were enslaved to a domination culture that said to be human is to be powerful over others. They were not free to act out of compassion, in free service to a God of compassion.
Exploiting others does not make us free, it enslaves us to fear that we will be exploited. It leads us to despise our own vulnerability, to reject our own humanity.
Ironically, the only people free in this story are those who are enslaved and jailed. They have been made free, that is "saved" or healed from a mental enslavement to domination culture to the freedom of the God who made us partners in care for the earth and its peoples. The word "salvation" means "healed or made whole."
The jailor was so moved by their freedom he wanted it for himself. He brought them to his home, washed their wounds, and had his wound washed too - wounds caused by participating in a system that degraded and exploited others.
As I write this, I am mindful of the fact that my computer was likely put together in a factory that takes advantage of the poverty of its employees.
I no doubt play a part in this - would I really pay more for a computer made by people given a fair wage?
May God save me, that is, may God heal me and all of us.