Shackles

16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.

19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.

22-24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas’s clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jail keeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.

25-26 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.

27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: “Don’t do that! We’re all still here! Nobody’s run away!”

29-31 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, “Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?” They said, “Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you’ll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!”

32-34 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn’t wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.  (Acts 16:16-34 The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

My name is Mantic.  I was the slave girl who had the spirit of divination.  I had believed that I was given this gift by the Roman god Apollo.  I was a pythoness with oracular power.  My owners made a lot of money because of me.  They used me until I was used up; in more ways than fortune telling.

The first time I laid eyes on the Apostle Paul I saw something I had never seen before.  He wasn’t like anyone I had seen; he had a spirit within him.  It was like mine, yet different.  And then I knew.  He was a prophet of the Most High God.  A God I had never met before, but was superior to all other gods, nonetheless.

I watched for awhile as Paul and Silas walked around Philippi, visiting with people.  Sometimes in earnest, but always with joy, even laughter.  Finally, I couldn’t help myself.  I had a spirit of proclamation.  So I proclaimed.

“These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” 

I listened to them speaking to others.  They spoke about freedom from a life that shackles us.  For me, I was shackled to men who used me and my talent.  I wanted to be free.  I didn’t know what else to do.

So, I followed them relentlessly.  When I wasn’t professing for my masters, I was following these men of God around, making a spectacle of myself and them.  They sure were patient!  It took days to break through.  Finally, Paul turned around and ordered the spirit out of me.

“Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” he said.  That’s all it took.  I was free.  No more spirit of pythona in me.  I could find a life of my own.

I hadn’t thought things out very well.  My owners didn’t need me any more.  They dumped me by the wayside on the way to getting retribution from the men of God. 

Now, you’ll notice that this scripture text never finishes my story.  I’m as invisible in that story as I was to my masters.  I was invisible to Paul and his followers; I’m even invisible to you, aren’t I?  Do you wonder what happened to me?

I continued to follow these men.  My former masters grabbed them and took them to the market place.  Now, I may not be very educated, but I do know the customs and the laws about slaves.  I was property.  My owners had a legal right to take Paul to civil court.  The charge would have been impeding on private property and preventing them from earning a living.

That wasn’t enough for my masters.  They were so angry that they set out for revenge.  They used their Jewishness against them.  Isn’t it amazing how we turn on those who don’t look and act like us?  Then they accused them of not being proper Roman citizens.  Their was nothing to back up these charges, but they sure got the attention of the mob in the market place. 

Then they lied by accusing them of unlawful behavior.  They called them atheists because they only worshiped one God.  They accused them of cannibalism because they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus. 

Others joined in and soon their was a mob out for blood.  No who’s enslaved, I wondered?  They weren’t interested in the truth.  They refused to listen to their defense. 

What these men didn’t know was that these men of God were Roman Citizens.  What the magistrates permitted was illegal.  Later Paul would demand a public apology, but the beating and jail time took place anyway.

I watched the men during the beating.  I followed them to the jail and slept outside the jail walls.  If I was very quiet, I could hear singing.  Even at midnight!  They were singing!  Some of the other prisoners joined in with them.

Then came the earthquake.  Afterwards, I heard that the jailer had his sword out ready to take his life because he assumed everyone had escaped.  Once again, it was Paul who saved the day. 

I saw the jailer take Paul and his friends to his house next door.  He cleaned the sores.  The men loved the feel of the cool water on their skin.  His wife put out a meal that smelled delicious.  Then Paul did something strange with the water.  It was called baptism and everyone in the household received it.

Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about God and his son Jesus.  I may have lost my pythona, but I learned that I had a Spirit within me that I had always had and it never left.  Eventually I was baptized and joined the house church here in Philippi.  I learned a new trade, but I never forgot my ability to read people and to see their pain.

Since that time I’ve seen many people in shackles.  My former owners were shackled by money and greed.

The crowd wore shackles of hate and bigotry.  They wore chains that attached them to anyone who would tell them what the problem was and that they and only they could fix it.  Mob mentality ruled that particular day.

The magistrates were shackled by politics.  Keep the peace or lose their jobs.  Keep the peace because someone else was in line for their job.  They were shackled by the greed for power.  They were shackled by the fear of losing their power.

Paul and his friends may have been shackled by leg irons, but they were the only ones who were truly free.  They followed Jesus and his teachings.  Worldly power and greed and corruption weren’t important.  Freeing others from their chains was all they wanted to do.

I’ve learned since then that God is in charge.  Lies, innuendo, and false information hold a lot of power.  But, eventually, the lies are replaced with new lies that spin the truth. 

I’ve learned that God will have His way.  It may not be on our time table, but God is ultimately in charge. 

How about you?  Do you need an earthquake?  Does your world need to have their shackles released? 

Perhaps, while you sit in the dark, stinky dungeon, you could begin praying and singing.  I suspect Paul will join you.

And while you wait for the earthquake, remember that change is always occurring.   God is always at work. 

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


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