Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Text: Acts 16.16-34 ""
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Have you, or anyone you know, ever experienced a miracle?
Is it always a large-scale dramatic event, or is a change of heart and mind a greater miracle?
A Window on the Text
This time it is Paul’s turn to be imprisoned for his faith, along with his companion Silas. Already we have heard that the coming of the Holy Spirit turned Peter and the other disciples from frightened and bewildered followers into fearless and dynamic witnesses. They have endured false accusations, beatings, and imprisonment from the Sanhedrin and from Herod’s men in Jerusalem – now that Paul is taking the message of Christianity out into the world he too finds out just how dangerous this can be.
Paul and Silas are in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia that does not have a large Jewish population. They are based at the house of Lydia, whose entire household has been baptised after she has heard their words and responded to their message.
They have been accused of causing uproar in the city by advocating a new religion not allowed by the Roman authorities. This accusation has been stirred up by local residents whose income has gone down following Paul’s exorcism of the spirit inhabiting the fortune-telling slave girl. As often happened in the Gospels, an evil spirit seems to recognise God’s spirit more quickly than the so-called God-fearing majority.
Once more we have a miraculous escape from prison, this time by means of an earthquake which opens doors and breaks chains. But which is the greater miracle – the ‘supernatural’ creation of this opportunity or the recognition by the jailer of the power of God, and his subsequent response to the needs of the prisoners? It is highly significant that he washes their physical wounds, and then in response they are able to wash him and his family in the waters of baptism. And the prisoners do not make good their escape, which would have meant a death sentence for the jailer, but they wait there in prison until their own release is granted.
Responding as a community
- Some Christians exaggerate the indifference and apathy of the wider community in this country and see it as persecution. Share what you know of genuine stories of people around the world who are imprisoned for their faith and consciences. Is there a connection?
- The slave girl’s talent for fortune-telling was exploited by her owners in order to make money for themselves.
How active is your church in raising awareness of modern day slavery such as child labour, sex-trafficking, and the exploitation of women in factories producing garments and other goods for the Western market?
Does it trouble you that the fate of the slave girl is not mentioned by Luke?
Have a map of the world on the table and light a candle in front of it.
Pray for all the situations that you have discussed with each other, and ask for the courage to try to change things for those Christians that you will never see or know.
Say this prayer:
(taken from the Book of a Thousand Prayers compiled by Angela Ashwin)
Use us now, Lord, as channels of your blessing for those in detention,
especially any who are in particular distress at this moment.
We thank you for the courage of those who suffer for truth and freedom;
and we ask not only that they may be strengthened by our prayers
but also that we will be inspired by their example;
in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Philippi was a city in eastern Macedonia named after Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. It was a Roman colony, and many retired legionnaires from the Roman army settled there, but few Jews. There were probably no synagogues, so the Jews who were there met for prayer along the banks of the river. It was customary for such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water.
- The fortune-telling spirit was likely to have been a “python” spirit, named for the mythical snake worshipped at Delphi and associated with the Delphic oracle. The term “python” came to be used of the persons through whom this spirit was supposed to speak, often involuntarily. The term “ventriloquist” was also used to describe them. To what extent the slave girl actually predicted the future is not known.