Something’s Wrong

Something doesn’t seem right.

This story in Acts where Paul casts the demon out of a girl because she is annoying him. Even though she is speaking truth about Paul being the “slave of the Most High God,” something doesn’t sit well with him and he decides to cast out the spirit that has given her the ability to peek into the future and speak a little deeper into the truth.

It isn’t much of a surprise that the slave owner doesn’t appreciate Paul taking away his source of income. It isn’t shocking that they spoke out against he and Silas and got them put in prison for acts unbecoming a Roman citizen. What does disturb me, though, is that Paul does absolutely nothing about the systems that are in place that led to the girl being enslaved in the first place.

One could say that Paul was in a hurry and focusing on his main task of preaching the gospel and so didn’t have time to stop for this disruption. Others may say that Paul was against slavery, and may even point out his plea for Onesimus to Philemon in Colossians, but it didn’t ultimately change the system. Maybe he was just saving it for later . . . .

How many times have we heard stories of Christian missionaries being captured or killed by militants in the lands where they were bringing the gospel? How many have wept over the loss of these martyrs who died for their great faith? Yet, how many have turned a blind eye to the indigenous peoples in these lands who have been subverted by those in power? It seems that we could stand a little work in getting our priorities straight.

Paul and Silas’s story seem to get better, though. After being put in the deepest darkest recesses of the prison, they sing their way to freedom as the walls collapse in a sudden earthquake. Hallelujah! God’s chosen ones are free at last! But this isn’t a cause for rejoicing for the jailer who knows he is doomed for failing at his job.

Before he can take his own life, Paul comforts the man and assures him that his is forgiven.

“What must I do to be saved?” he asks.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul replies.

What does this even mean? Subscribe to a particular assent about who Jesus was? Or is it to embrace the gospel that Jesus espoused about releasing the captives, bringing freedom to the oppressed and sight to the blind? If it’s the latter, then it seems that Paul has failed to live the gospel himself.

This passage has been preached on so many times and so many times the Church has gotten giddy with excitement when Paul and Silas break free and the jailer becomes one of their first converts. But what about the girl? Why is she so easily forgotten?

It seems like a wonderful thing at face value when the jailer and his family are baptized into the faith. After all, if we can bring the oppressor into our fold, then everything will be ok. But just then we remember that some of the most oppressive, homophobic, racist people have been Christians. And so we move on looking for another place in this passage to find hope.

Maybe this passage isn’t about what was done right, but more about what could have been done better. Sure, it’s not completely devoid of reason for celebration, but so much was left on the table. We could find a lesson here about reaching out to those in power and asking them what it is they fear. What is it that scares them into wanting to have a death grip on the illusion of control at all costs?

Perhaps its about Paul’s unwillingness or inability to let go of the idea that he can’t do something. Did he feel too inadequate to affect change big enough to shift entire systems? It’s quite possible that he felt that there was nothing that he could do anyway, so he just let things be and moved on. Is he any different from most of us?

Paul and Silas’s adventure here is crying out for awareness. It’s calling us to experience that metanoia from “can’t” to “must”.

Whether this was Paul’s mindset or not, this passage is a reminder of each and every time that we have seen an injustice and kept going, telling ourselves that there is nothing that we could do anyway. Who are we to think we can affect change?

If I practice this on myself, I have to ask what I can do. I’m only one person, after all, and there’s not likely to be a whole lot of an impact that I can make. Or maybe this is just an excuse for my own fear of being inadequate. And so I ask myself anyway.

Maybe this passage is calling me to ask myself the right questions and to see that I actually can make a difference. I’ve never thought of myself as having power and having grown up rather poor, I didn’t have any financial influence. But, I am a white cisgendered straight Protestant male and some would say that this automatically means that I am privileged. I can’t argue that. So maybe there is something I can do. After all, I recently heard somebody say that it isn’t only the oppressed who should be having conversations saying that things need to change.

So how about this: What if I reach to the margins and, like Fr. Greg Boyle suggested, learn from those in the margins and allow myself to be changed by them instead of trying to change them?

How about I encourage children to keep dreaming and encourage the adults around me to stop teaching them the word “can’t”?

What if I join others and revel in the innocence and creativity of youth instead of trying to change them and tell them that they need to quit having such grandiose ideas as world peace and the oneness of all people? What if I let them remain the humane human beings that they are and start to learn from them for a change?

What if I teach my boys that it’s not ok for men to use a woman’s body for their own gratification because that body comes with a heart, a soul, a mind all made in the beautiful image of a loving God and so much more?

What if I teach them that it’s ok to be vulnerable and that the adage that men should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and never show any emotion is a bunch of bull and that it only creates hurt people and that it really is true that hurt people hurt people and when those hurt people come into power then the hurt just spreads exponentially and systemically?

Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out. What can you do?

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