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The Conversion of Lydia, Acts 16:11-15

Lydia of the Purple Cloth

I have long been taught that women in the Bible had three options for living: marriage, prostitution, or poverty. For the most part, there is some truth to this. It was very difficult for a single woman to survive, given the laws and rituals surrounding marriage and gender biases. One of the reasons Jesus was so adamant about providing for the widows was that their status as unmarried, unemployed women made it difficult for them to survive. To care for them was a gift and a blessing to all.

At the same time, there are these stories like this one of Lydia. Lydia was a small business owner. Yep, she sold purple cloth. The purple dye was extracted from the murex shellfish, a timely and costly process. The reason we think of purple as a royal color is because purple was so expensive. For Lydia to manufacture clothing, and maybe even textiles, in purple, would mean she was a self-sufficient business woman, doing quite well for herself and her family. It also meant Paul needed her, and others like her. Traveling to preach the gospel is not free or cheap, and Paul and the other apostles needed capital. Women and other benefactors like Lydia were necessary for Paul's travels, and were instrumental in the spread of the gospel throughout the countrysides. Lydia is one of my heroes not only because she made a living for herself in a time when doing so was a challenge, but also because she opened herself to the gospel, received its truth, made the decision to support the spread of the gospel with her resources, and took that leap of faith to give abundantly from limited resources. That's the kind of follower I want to be.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Acts 16:11-15

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.