“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” At that time, in Jesus’ death, the centurion who were keep watching over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Matt 27:46-57).
Now, the same thing is happening here, in the story that the first reading, the book of Acts is telling us today. Paul and his co-workers are going to the place of prayer, and they meet a slave-girl possessed by a spirit of divination. And they cast out a spirit of divination from this girl, and heal her. But, the owner of the girl, who made a great deal of money from her fortune-telling skill, are enraged because they realize their chance of making money is gone, and then they seize and drag these into the marketplace before the authority. And bring them before the Roman officials, and says, “These men are disturbing our city. They are so dangerous to our city. They are causing trouble in us. They are teaching customs that are against our law; we are Roman citizens, and we cannot accept these customs or practice them.” And, “The crowd join in attacking them, and the magistrates has them stripped of their clothing and order them to be beaten with rods. After they give them a severe flogging, they throw them into prison and order the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he puts them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
But Paul and Silas are not seized with fear, not in despair. They are praying and singing hymn in prison to God; in addition, other prisoners are listening to them. They do not look like prisoner being beaten and flogged, and chained and locked up in the innermost cell; rather looks like free-man, singing and flying in joy and happiness.
But How? What is happening in here, in prison?
“These men are disturbing our city, our law, our tradition, our way of life, are so dangerous to us, to our life, to our society.”
This is accusation against them, Jesus’ disciples, and this also was the accusation against their Lord, Jesus Christ. And, just as their Lord was stripped of His clothing, beaten, flogged, and crucified on the hill, now His disciples stripped, beaten, flogged, imprisoned. “These men are disturbing our city.” Yes, Jesus rocked and upset an old order, disturbing their peaceful living, making trouble in them, in their world.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Not peace, but division.” (Matthew 10:34, Luke 13:51). The gospel is not comforting the old order, but disturbing it. The gospel, the mystery of God, the secret of God, the truth of God, the love of God. Christ Jesus, the Lord, has come to give fire and sword to them, to their living, to their world, to their social order, and peace, in which they have locked themselves up and imprisoned. Jesus has come to give a new identity in Him as a new humanity, free from slavery to an old reign, to an old order.
However, it is their belief that material and spiritual world, that is, not only social and economic, but also religious life could be under their human control, and that their fortune and their future are under their human control, manipulating people’s fears and anxieties, and activating them to build the wall between and among them, and to oppress or exclude the outsiders, strangers or minorities, and to express them in anger, hatred, and violence. And this belief has become a truth for them, for their world. Fortune telling. It was not just a business, but also a truth, and a religion.
But, now, these Christians are disturbing their world, rocking their boat of peace, shaking the foundations of their Babel Tower, of the faith, the truth which they have kept upon which they have built their world. Not only the authorities, the officials, but also the crowd, stand behind these owners. And, now the owners and supporters of fortune teller come to face the disciples, the gospel teller.
“These men are disturbing our city.” Yes, they have come to this city to disturb them, their city, their belief, their social and economic system.
However, just as His crucifixion was not the end of the story, their imprisonment is not the end of the story. Just as the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, the earth shook, and the rocks were split, the tombs also were opened on that day, the same earth is shaking, the foundation of the prison is shaken violently, all the doors are opened wide, chains are unfastened today now here.
A jailor sees, prison doors are opened wide, but recognizes, the prisoners are here, not escape. And the jailor is asking the prisoners, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?”
Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate, a jailor, asked Jesus, a prisoner, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38).
Then, “who is the prisoner, who is actually imprisoned, not free? Who is the one who knows truth?” Yes, Jesus was stripped, beaten, flogged, chained, and threw into a prison and crucified just like His disciples. But He was not imprisoned in Roman authority, but He was imprisoned in the Father, in His will, in His love. Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32). And “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.” (John 8:31-38).
They are imprisoned in Jesus, the truth, Christ Jesus, the Lord, life-giving Word, but they have been set free already from a prison of fear in truth, through truth, with truth. And now they have become a prisoner of and in Christ.
Paul says in his letter to Ephesians 3:1-6, “I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles. In former generations this secret of Christ, this mystery of Christ was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirt: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:1-6) He is not a prisoner of Roman authority, but a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul, the Christian who believe in the Lord, and follow Him and walk with Him is ultimately and in whole a prisoner who belongs to Christ, not to any authority. He has become a prisoner for Christ Jesus to make God’s name known to all. He has become a prisoner of Christ for the sake of all, that the mystery of Christ may be made known to all, that they may become fellow heirs of Kingdom of God, become members of Jesus Christ, the same body, and become sharers in the promise, the eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Paul is saying about a new identity, a new human being, a new community, a new relationship, sharing the mystery, Christ, the Lord, the Son of God, in faith, in love, and in hope in Him, and sharing His gift of redemption, salvation, and unbreakable bond of unity with Christ, the Lord, and sharing the future that is described and revealed in the book of Revelation.
“What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) He might have come to a fortune teller to know some secret to be saved, but now he comes and kneels before Paul, a prisoner. “Tell me the way which he should follow to be saved. Tell me how you could sing in joy in prison, and how you were not afraid of the earthquake, and what makes you not escape but stay here even though you have had chance to run away? What is your secret, what is that?” Now, the jailor becomes a witness to the action of the Holy Spirit through which the Lord continues working in making the Father known to the world. Now, this jailor is not any more a prison-keeper, but a prisoner of Christ, a prisoner in Christ just like Paul. And, He is not imprisoned by the fear, the false gods and belief any more, but becomes a free-man, imprisoned in Christ.
Paul is saying in Ephesians 4:1-6, “I therefore, Paul, the prisoner in the Lord, I beg you, my fellow prisoner, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
We, the prisoner of Christ, are called to live a new life, being united with Christ through the Holy Spirit. The calling to which we are called is to live worthily, practicing the divine love with which the Father has loved the Son become our new reality in our day by day living, with the help and guide of the Holy Spirit.
Come! Holy Spirit, Come!
And let us live the life of prisoner of Christ. Amen.