Today we return to one of the more layered stories from the book of Acts.
“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.” – Acts 16:16-24
When the owners of the girl saw that she was healed, they were irate. Their reaction seems counterintuitive, or at least it should. Are we not meant to celebrate the health and healing of another?
The owners of the girl were angry to see that she was made well because they profited from her sickness. This feels all too common. What societal sicknesses can you think of that take advantage of the marginalized or the poor? It isn’t difficult to see the connections between greed, lust, and envy and human trafficking, predatory lending, and inhumane working conditions. I recently heard a statistic that during the first year of the pandemic 40 new billionaires were created in the pharmaceutical industry alone. While I know nothing about the nature of their work or the reason for their growth in wealth, that statistic does not look good.
The owners of the slave knew that it would not look good to accuse Paul and Silas of healing the girl. Instead, they went to the local authorities and accused the apostles of “disturbing the peace.” The owners lied to the community and lied to themselves about why they were seeking to harm Paul and Silas. Each time I read this story, I am appalled at the owner’s inability to name their real issue and I am amazed that Paul and Silas appear to say nothing.
The scripture emphasizes the abuse Paul and Silas undergo because they healed a girl. The story reminds us that when society has adjusted to unhealthy practices and norms then any attempts at healing will be met with resistance. Perhaps this phenomenon is why Jesus said in the Sermon on teh Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
If the church is to love and serve the lost and the marginalized in our world then we must be prepared to face the powers and principalities that benefit from the dehumanization of the marginalized. So by the power of the Holy Spirit let us boldly proclaim the gospel and it’s world changing love.