In those days, as we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I charge 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 gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the rulers; and when they had brought them to the magistrates they said, “These men are Jews and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs which it is not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.
Acts 16: 16-34 (Epistle from the Sunday of the Blind Man)
Christ is Risen!
There are two things that being an authentic Christian are sure to bring us—Conflict and peace.
Saint Paul became the most devout of Christians. In today’s reading from Acts, we read that Paul became annoyed with a girl who was a soothsayer following him around. After many days, he cast out the evil spirit in her by invoking the name of Christ over her. That was a good thing that Paul did. He loosed a young girl of an evil spirit. Her life would now be better. However, the result of this good deed was that Paul got arrested. For the owners of the girl (she was a slave) became angry with Paul when they realized that her ability to get money for them by soothsaying was gone.
Paul and Silas, who was also arrested, were brought before the magistrates of the city, where they were maligned and accused of malicious behavior. The magistrates ordered that they be beaten with rods and thrown into prison. They were beaten and bruised and jailed. This reminds me of the saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” For Paul and Silas were certainly punished for their good deed.
If we are authentic Christians, especially in the world today, we should expect more condemnation than accolades. Christ’s message of love has somehow been twisted and is seen as bad and problematic. Christ’s followers, who are distinguished (or at least should be) by love and service to others are being condemned as being evil people. Like Paul and Silas, there are many devout Christians who suffer from unjust persecution, whose lives are made more hectic and stressful than they need to be.
There is one reward that Paul and Silas reaped from God, even in their time of uncertainly and being treated unjustly. One reward of following Christ is that we can experience peace in the midst of conflict. Most people associate peace with the absence of conflict. Peace is generally possible only when the conflict has ended. In today’s passage, we read that despite being in the inner prison, with their feet fastened in the stock, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16: 25) In the middle of the night, in the middle of a prison, we see a scene of peace, not only for Paul and Silas but for those who were in the prison with them. This is an example of peace in the midst of conflict, the kind of peace that can only come from God.
The final scene of this passage from Acts is that in the middle of the peace that came from singing and praying, God made a miracle, in that all the jail doors were opened and everyone chains were unfastened. With the opportunity to escape, Paul and Silas remained in the jail. The jailer was afraid that people had escaped and was about to fall on his sword. Paul told him that no one had escaped. This witness of Paul, to not choose freedom because it would have broken the law, and to see Paul experience peace in the midst of conflict, this witness inspired the guard to be baptized, him and all of his family.
Paul gave a bold and courageous witness for Christ—it brought him both conflict and peace, and it also led others to the Lord. It is appropriate to reflect on our own witness for Christ and ask ourselves does our experience of Christ and our witness for Him bring us conflict. Have we experienced Christ’s peace? And has anyone come closer to Christ because of something we have said or done?
So shall the sinners perish from the face of God. And let the righteous be glad. The myrrh-bearing women at dawn very early, standing outside the tomb of the Giver-of-Life, found an Angel who was seated upon the stone. And the Angel addressed them, and this is what he said, “Why do you seek among the dead the One who is alive? Why do you grieve as though corruptible the Incorrupt? So go back and proclaim it to His Disciples.” (Third Praise, Pascha, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Our witness for Christ, if bold and courageous like Paul, will at times bring us conflict. It will also bring us peace in the midst of the conflict. It will most importantly help others to find Christ. And this is what will please Christ!