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Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas in Prison

Grounded Unpleasantness

It's a difficult thing, being a problem-solver and a fixer, to let a problem be. Paul and Silas saw a problem: a slave girl with a spirit. They solved it: they cast the demon out. New problem: the girl's owners were making good money with her gifts and didn't want her healed. They were thrown in jail for their efforts. Their act of charity cost them.

There was a time when I was an obsessive problem-solver. My brain is always spinning that way, and it didn't much matter to me whether the problem was mine or not. If I saw it, I fixed it. The problem was that some people didn't want their problems to be solved. Or, at the least, they didn't want them solved by me. And they were right. It was quite brash of me to assume that I could or should solve their problems for them. Just because I see it as a problem, doesn't mean it's a problem for them. If it was truly a problem for them, they would either solve it themselves, ask for help in solving it, or decide to let it be.

Learning to let it be is also a gift in itself. We live in a culture of fix-it-now. We don't like the feeling of being unsettled or discontent, and we seek quick fixes. But there is a groundedness that comes with learning to sit uncomfortably with the dis-ease. When we can learn to be still in the midst of the chaos, and happy despite the anger or sadness of those around us, we can find ourselves unshaken by those things that otherwise might knock us off our center.

When Paul and Silas found themselves in prison, they let it be. They acknowledged their state, even though it was unpleasant and uncertain, and they walked through it with balance and groundedness. In the end, their stability led the jailer and others to find the peace and solidness of Christ. What might happen the next time you find yourself in unpleasant circumstances, if you took a deep breath and moved through it with balance, peace, and stability? 

Narrative Lectionary Text: Acts 16:16-40

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

When morning came, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported the message to Paul, saying, “The magistrates sent word to let you go; therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.