Paul and Silas were unjustly thrown into prison in Acts 16:16-34. Their crime? Paul delivered a slave girl from a possessing spirit. The slave masters had been using this girl as a way to make money. When she was set free from the spirit, she lost her value. The masters dragged Paul and Silas before the Roman magistrates, falesly accused them of treachery against Rome, used their Jewishness-as-otherness against them, and thus had them condemned to flogging and imprisonment without fair trial.
I’m reading Dr. Willie Jennings commentary on Acts. he says,
The church has always struggled against the identity-constituting powers of ownership and has often been overcome by its seductions. We are yet to grasp fully the struggle of discipleship precisely at the site of ownership where the voice of the Spirit must be heard over against those voices that wish to weave together in us possession with social control, the concern for maintaining our things with the willingness to kill others to do it (p. 162).
The power of this story is how Paul and Silas react to their imprisonment. They don’t become bitter or angry. They worship. Then the prison is shaken, the prisoners are released, and the real prisoner–the jailer–finds a new way of living in the world. They have a new song to sing. He and his family share a table with the prisoners: a picture of the Kin-dom of God.
Listen to what Jennings says about prison and prayer,
This scene of their worshiping God is startling and surreal only if we forget that this scene is the originating scene, the place from which all prayer to and through Jesus finds its beginning point and then moves toward heaven. The christological center of prayer is revealed at the site of suffering and rejection. There is an organic connection between Jesus praying in the garden before his torture and Paul and Silas praying in the prison after their torture. This is for the sake of Jesus and the humanity he saves. Worship in churches can be obfuscating and unintentionally quite misleading if we fail to remember this original format. Praying and singing join us to tortured and chained bodies, both past and present, and to the real pressure placed on disciples’ bodies as they look toward God (p. 163).
Jennings, Willie James. Acts (Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
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