As noted last week,
the Narrative Lectionary uses the time between Easter and Pentecost to focus on the early church,
this year telling the story of Paul, using passages from Acts and (this year) from Philippians
Acts is, of course, the continuation of the story of Jesus’s followers as told by the author of Luke
And so, although last week we saw some resonances with the Gospel of John in our Acts passage,
the themes and context for our readings are better found in the Gospel of Luke
In today’s reading, the theme
the reality, that makes the authorities attend to Paul & Silas is financial
It is when their actions interfere with the take,
the livelihood of the masters of the female slave
when they hit ‘em where it hurts—in the pocketbook
that they get brought up on charges…
And this financial theme is evident in Luke as well
In Luke, it is after Jesus clears the temple (chapter 19) that the leaders set out to destroy him
And the stories around that event have financial themes as well
Jesus clearing the temple is preceded
by the story of the Pharisee who bragged about himself to God
and the tax collector who confessed his sin
as well as the story of the rich young ruler told to sell all he had
and of Zacchaeus, the tax collector
and the parable of the 3 servants given talents to invest by their master
And after the temple is cleared
Jesus tells a parable of 3 servants who come to collect the master’s share of the vineyard’s produce
And the scribes and the pharisees ask him about paying taxes to Caesar
And Jesus notes the offering of the widow’s mite, of “all that she had to live on”
Perhaps all this money talk is related to the fact that money decisions clarify our values
That is, when we are called upon to make financial decisions,
we “put our money where our mouth is”—or not!
This is part of what one can see if you watch the endless home sale/home remodeling shows
That families who say they want this-and-that in their next or current house
have to decide whether that desire is worth what it costs
whether they are willing to put in the money needed to back up that wish/want/need
Of course there is a degree to which there is a real bottom line there—
even Lottery Dream Home buyers usually have a proposed budget,
although it likely can be more flexible than for the rest of us
But the question remains–given what money we have, how do we want to spend it?
Jesus at the temple
and Paul with this slave girl
are interfering with free enterprise
They are intervening in systems of commerce
Their actions are not only not appreciated
They put them in danger for their very lives
Or at least how we use it does
We have seen/are seeing companies and consumers make decisions to influence policy
From the weighing in of GA companies like Coca-Cola and Home Depot on state election policies
to Disney objecting to Florida’s prohibition of teaching about gender identity
and FL’s push-back regarding the property exemptions Disney has held
from sanctions against Russia and subsequent inflation and gas price increases
to companies taking stances to protect access to abortion
in the face of potential Supreme Court action
Individual consumers have a role to play in such actions as well
From historic boycotts of those using underpaid migrant labor to pick lettuce
to baby formula companies encouraging formula over breastfeeding in poor countries
from divesting from stocks in companies with poor human rights track records
to choosing which energy products to buy in accord with taking care of the earth
What we buy and why matters
Today’s passage provides a study-in-contrast regarding the commodification/worth of human beings
From the unnamed female slave whose appearance seems only to serve the story line
to the jailer who, although also unnamed, has his own story told
The female slave’s role is often forgotten,
although she sets in motion the better-known story of Paul & Silas’s imprisonment and release.
Paul, annoyed/harassed by the slave’s constant proclamation of who they are,
casts the spirit of divination from her
And while some commentators call this a healing
And some speak of Paul and Silas being endangered by the slave’s proclamation.
The text says neither.
After this exorcism, the slave ceases to be of use to her masters or to the story.
Her role is not elucidated in court.
Instead, her masters claim Paul and Silas are disturbing the peace.
They accuse Paul and Silas of pushing Jewish customs onto the Romans.
There is no follow-through and no follow-up regarding her story.
We do not know if she thinks of herself as healed.
if she becomes a follower of the Way, maybe joining Lydia.
if her masters cast her out.
if she is beaten.
if she is sold.
if she is starved.
if she is forced into prostitution to make up for her lost income.
Beyond our pericope, we find that Paul and Silas are even Roman citizens (v.38).
They are part of the majority culture, of the powers-that-be.
They are the heroes of the story, placed center stage.
While the slave girl is cast as a bit player, an accessory, to their story.
But we have, in this same passage, another way of dealing with an employee, a functionary
The jailer, defined by his role to such a degree that he pulls his sword to kill himself
when he knows that this will be his fate for failing at his job
is treated as a person, not just a tool of the Empire, by Paul and Silas
And, interestingly, saved from death, he asks further what he must do to be saved
Fulfilling the slave’s words as themselves slaves of the Most High God,
Paul and Silas tell him the way of salvation
to believe in the Lord Jesus
and to be saved (along with his household)
I dated a guy whose treatment of waitresses and gas station attendants spoke volumes
(It actually reminded me of my grandfather, who was also good with the “little person.”)
Both believed that people who worked such jobs are not just functionaries, but people
That they not only have a somewhat menial role to play
But are real people, deserving of regard and attention as people
Rather than being treated just as someone who serves us
John even gave me a tie tack with a string of little people on it to remind me of the fact
Our two contrasting stories call us to look for who has been bumped offstage
Whose story, like that of the female slave, gets lost in the telling?
Whose narrative is disrupted, ignored, not heard?
Have you ever told someone of your woes only to have them elbow you out of center stage?
They say, “That’s nothing. You should see my (fill in the blank).”
But another person’s pain, another person’s struggle, another person’s reality,
is not presented to us so that we can re-assert our pain, our struggle, our reality.
Instead, we could receive a fuller picture of pain. Of the world. Of God. Of love. Of reality.
Sometimes listeners justify butting into someone’s story by saying, “I know just how you feel.”
But do we really?
The first-person narrative belongs to the storyteller.
Listeners should keep their hands off,
instead of grabbing the story and retrofitting it to apply to them.
Making room for others can be hard work.
We forget that the story isn’t all about us.
We act as if there are no other characters.
We neglect the other plotlines.
We refuse to permit any other narrators.
But God’s story gives us each a starring role.
God follows all—and each—of the characters.
God honors all the plotlines.
God lets each of us share in the narration.
God reminds us that we aren’t the only people in the world.
Our point of view is not the only one.
Others are not here to serve as extras for our big scenes.
We must let the slave tell her own story, instead of just being a prop for Paul’s story.
We must seek the lost lamb
the lost coin
the lost child
For this is God’s family.
And no one is left out or left behind.
Thanks be to God! Let us pray…
May 25, 2022 at 9:55 pm
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