Over 15 years ago, a television series named Prison Break was quite famous. It grabbed my attention and kept me fully engaged, season after season. Today's first reading has a perfect setting of a prison break. But reflecting deeper on it will tell us that it is not really about a prison break.
As we saw yesterday, Paul and his companions began their mission with a promising start in Philippi. Today, we hear how the 'happy start' changes disastrously as they free a girl of an evil spirit. There was this slave girl, a fortune teller with "a spirit of divination." The slave girl was a prophetess. Apparently, this slave girl was quite good at predicting the future and brought home a lucrative profit for her owners. The owners accuse Paul and Silas of disturbing the peace and the crowd riots.
After being accused before the authorities, the magistrates stripped the missionaries and flogged them. After they were given many lashes and thrown into prison, the jailer was instructed to keep a close eye on them.
Things could be looking better for our heroes! And this is where it gets interesting. It is midnight, literally and figuratively, the darkest hour, and you might expect Paul and Silas to be down in the dumps, but no, they are singing hymns about Jesus so the other prisoners could hear.
"A violent earthquake shook the prison's foundations, opening the doors and releasing everyone's chains."
As the jailer called for lights, he took them outside and asked, "What must I do to be saved?" This sounds like a religious question to us, but he may have merely asked, "How do I get out of this mess?" Paul and Silas replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." Which is what happened. And the jailer cleaned their wounds. "He brought them into his home and fed them, and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God."
The Gospel is addressed to all sorts and conditions of people, to women, men and eunuchs, to Jews like Paul, to Gentiles like Lydia, to the rich and influential, to poor like the slave girl with the demon, to powerful people like the Roman jailer and powerless people, like slaves.
Each of these people experiences the Gospel in a way particular to them. Paul's teaching moves Lydia, the jailer, through the dramatic earthquake and opening of his prison, and the slave girl by being freed from her demon. Some come to Christ all at once, and some over time. Some are "born again," and some are born again and again and again, maybe that describes you and me, and we are not done yet. Some are once born but never experience conversion but still know and follow Jesus.
Nevertheless, God brings forth good out of an unpleasant situation. If we allow the Lord to work in our lives when we feel powerless and helpless, He can do great things. We learned that the affliction of Paul's imprisonment led to the jailer's and his family's baptism. It is true that "God writes straight with crooked lines."
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