Sunday, May 1, 2016

Acts 16.16-34: Chains

There are multiple options for this week in RCL Year C in 2016. One option is to treat the week as Easter 7C (if not observing Ascension Sunday on May 8, 2016). If you choose the readings for Easter 7C, the reading from Acts is 16:16-34.

In that passage are several different expressions of the issue of slavery. A slave girl's gift of insight is exploited by her owners in order to make money. She cries out that Paul and Silas are "slaves of the Most High God." When given the opportunity to escape from jail (where they are being kept with their feet in stocks), Paul and Silas choose to remain in the jail, saving the life of the jailer and leading him to belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Each of these ideas approaches the idea of slavery and chains in a different way.  The girl has no choice. She is exploited, kept in slavery because her owners profit from her. Paul and Silas are voluntary slaves. Slaves to no human but only to God. That relationship leads them to choose to remain in jail, even when they might have been freed.

We may be tempted to think about slavery in first-century Palestine differently than slavery in more recent centuries. It was not race-based; any person could be enslaved. It was not uncommon for parents of families living in poverty to sell their children into slavery. Perhaps that is how the girl in Acts found herself owned and telling prophecies for her owners. However it is, she was in no position to help herself or to make decisions about staying where she was. And in that sense, in that taking away of personal human agency, all slavery is the same.

Shackles intended for a child.c. 1800.  New York Historical Society. Published in The Civil War in 50 Objects (
The shackles above were intended for a child. And perhaps the girl in the Acts passage was not shackled as the 19th-century African children were shackled, but she was chained every bit as much until she was freed by Paul's words to the spirit that possessed her, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her."

The name of Jesus Christ freed this girl. The name of Jesus Christ could free everyone who is chained.

This week's Art&Faith Matters Facebook post offers some alternate views of the Ascension

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