35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
When I read this story it struck me. Paul and Silas, having exorcised the demon within slave girl, are beaten and sent to prison. This in and of itself is unjust. But because the owners lost their “profitable business”, they spark a mob. After being beaten, they were thrown into jail under strict watch.
But why? What did they do? These outsiders disrupted the power structures by bringing the freedom of God. The freedom of God in a broken world is enough to incite rage. The truth of God in the midst of a system built on lies, means that defenses are going to go up. If people see the light, then they will no longer stand in the dark. It’s that simple.
That struck me in these days of chaos. It struck me that in this narrative, we don’t hear the response of the slave girl that was set free from possession. We don’t see what the rest of her journey looked like. It struck me that even though Paul and Silas did nothing wrong, when the jail fell and their freedom was present, they stayed in the struggle. They stayed and because of their power in that moment, they showed a jailer that his life was not over. They showed a city that their lives (Paul and Silas) weren’t as important as the freedom of God’s Truth.
And finally, as I read the verses above, they then used the power and privilege of their Roman status to bring the power structure in the city trembling and to their knees. They wanted Paul and Silas to leave quietly and unacknowledged. But in the end, the leaders met them at the prison, and they returned to encourage the new believers in the city.
Why? Why did they choose to do that? As I ponder the early church, I am shocked by how God used disruption to create a path for the Gospel in our world. They stepped into uncomfortable spaces and brought God’s love. They spoke in dangerous environments and shared God’s truth. They were not popular in their beliefs, they were the early church.
I wonder what this means for the church today. What is our call in a society that still stands against God’s truth that ALL people were created in God’s image? What does God expect from us in a world that claims justice can be done outside of the kingdom? How will the power of God be made evident in this world today? What truth are we speaking, even when it’s uncomfortable?
Church, I don’t come with answers. I am just reflecting with you on this powerful story of God at work in the early church. May the Word of God, which is alive today, continue to shape us as children of God, as the body of Christ, and as God’s hands and feet on earth. Amen.