Bible Study April 22 for Worship May 12

Bible Study April 22 for Worship May 12

Acts 16: 16 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.
17 She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
18 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.
19 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;
20 and when they had brought them to the magistrates they said, “These men are Jews and they are disturbing our city.
21 They advocate customs which it is not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.
23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely.
24 Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
26 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.
27 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.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 and brought them out and said, “Men, what must I do to be saved?”
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family.
34 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.

COMMENTARY

Mental Illness in the ancient world was often believed to be associated with the divine. Most of the time mental illness was characterized as demon possession, and the possessed were considered to be evil, or the victims of evil. But other times the mentally ill were viewed more benignly as having been touch by the gods. Often people who are mentally ill can be profoundly brilliant but still disturbed. The film “a Beautiful Mind” may have romanticized paranoid schizophrenia, but it still portrayed the brilliance behind the illness. The mentally ill can be quite problematical, but their flashes of insight can be truly amazing. Some of the mentally ill in the ancient world were thought to be divinely inspired soothsayers, and that belief could be used to turn a profit. Such was the case with the young slave girl Paul and his companions encountered in the market place in Philippi.

The story in Acts provides distressingly little detail. Paul does not mention the incident in any of his letters, but then his letters are not usually biographical in nature. If we are allowed to speculate, we might speculate that the girl was present daily in the market place offered by her handlers for soothsaying for a fee. In addition we might suspect that Paul had spent some time in the market place, engaging people with his message about Jesus, and perhaps praying over people with healing affects. The slave girl may have had opportunities then to hear Paul and witness his ministry.

At this point let’s digress for a moment and remember the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus was a teacher. But teachers in the ancient world were a dime a dozen. What really drew the crowds to Jesus was the healings that were achieved in his ministry. Some of the healings credited to Jesus appear to have been the placebo affect engaging the faith of the individual to accomplish a healing. The placebo affect is still alive and well among us. Jesus even encouraged people to credit healing to their own faith, “your faith has made you well.” Some of the healing attributed to Jesus appeared to go way beyond the placebo effect and have something to do with energy transfer, sort of like Reiki on steroids. Also most fascinating and mysterious to modern readers were the healings he performed on those who were demon possessed – exorcism. Before we discount the healing of the mentally ill by Jesus, we should consider that some dramatic experiences can flood the brain with chemicals that permanently rewire the brain. These are in no way ordinary experiences, but truly life altering changes in the brains internal structure and brain chemistry. Apparently some of the followers of Jesus received the gift of healing mental and emotional problems. Who knows? It is a mystery. Paul, who himself had received a life altering experience on the Road to Damascus had some ability to heal others. Other than discounting the healing of the slave girl, we might open ourselves to the possibility that Paul did in fact heal the young woman.

Of course when the owners of the slave girl discovered she had been healed, they were enraged. Their investment became worthless. We are aghast at this kind of exploitation and human trafficking in the First Century it was common place. We need to remember that slavery has always included sexual exploitation. In this case the woman’s illness was being exploited. She was in bondage not only to her masters but to the mental illness that possessed. Once Paul had broken the bondage of her illness, her value as a slave disappeared or at least was much diminished.

The aggrieved owners took Paul and Silas companions before the magistrates who promptly ordered that the two of them be beaten with rods and thrown in jail. Property rights down through history have trumped human rights. In prison Paul and Silas prayed and sang, and the other prisoners began listening to them. About midnight an earth quake caused the doors of the prison to come off their hinges, but Paul and Silas convinced the other prisoners to stay in place. The jailer of course thought that everyone would have fled and he would be held responsible prepared to commit suicide. But Paul called out to him and to the jailer’s immense relief, everyone was still in place. Overwhelmed by this gesture of good will from Paul, Silas and the other prisoners the jailer made his confession of faith that night. The jailer, his family, and perhaps some of the prisoners became part of the fledgling community of the followers of Jesus that night.

What should we learn from this scripture? First, there are many different kinds of bondage. Jesus intends that all people can be set free. We can be set free from political oppression. We can be set free from physical and psychological abuse. We can be set free from our fears and anxieties. And through the loving care community of faith people suffering from mental illness can be set free from the isolation and stigmatization that so often accompanies mental illness. And there are spiritual practices that can help to regulate and heal some of the symptoms of mental illness. (People should take their medications, but love and faith are also important.)

Second, we never know when we will have an opportunity to share our faith. When we pray with and for other people, we are sharing our faith. When we respond in faith rather than fear, we are sharing our faith. When we reach out in love to others we are sharing the faith of Jesus. We don’t always know when our faith is being shared and other have to be open to receive the faith we extend to them. As the great preacher Fred Craddock said, “Preach Christ use words if you have to.” I think, however, in an increasingly secular world with more and more unchurched people, we do have some need to share the story. We can no longer assume that everyone knows the story.

Third, when we attempt to free people from oppression we can expect that the oppressors will react with anger, hostility, even violence. Do not challenge the bondages of the Empire of Darkness unless you are prepared for hostility and persecution. We must also join with others in ending human trafficking in our own day.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. In what City were Paul and Silas walking through the market place?

2. Who followed and harassed them in the market place?

3. In response to the harassment, what did Paul do?

4. How did the handlers of the person react?

5. What charge was leveled against Paul and Silas?

6. What was the response of the authorities?

7. What punishments were meted out to Paul and Silas?

8. How did Paul and Silas comfort themselves in the night?

9. What was the response of those around them?

10. What natural event took place that night?

11. How was the keeper of the jail affected?

12. What was the keeper’s response to the gestures of Paul and Silas?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. From what do you think the slave girl suffered?

2. Have you ever known someone who was healed of a mental illness?

3. How important do you think a loving caring community can be to the mentally ill?

4. How do you feel about property rights versus human rights?

5. What are some of the human rights you think are most important?

6. Have you ever challenged what you would consider to be oppression and what were the consequences?

7. If you had been in the place of Paul and Silas how would you have responded to being beaten and thrown in jail?

8. Do you see any parallels between what was done to Paul and Silas and the suffering of people in the civil rights movement?

9. If you had been a prisoner in the jail, when the earthquake came, what would you have done?

Week of May 6 – May 12: Seventh Sunday of Eastertide – Acts 16:16-34 – Breaking Chains – Psalm 97, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26.

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