Sunday of the Blind Man, May 29, 2022
Acts 16:16-34; John 9:1-38
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen! He truly is risen!
During this Paschal period, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, essentially the first Christian collection of saints’ lives. Much of it is about the Apostle Paul, but we read there about other major figures of the early Church.
In our passage for today, from Acts 16, the tale begins with the exorcism of the fortune-telling slave girl. She was being exploited by her owners, and St. Paul heals her by driving the unclean spirit out, which also deprives her owners of income. They haul St. Paul and his companion St. Silas in front of the civil authorities, who have them beaten and thrown into prison.
And what was the charge? “These men are disturbing our city, and they, being Jews, are setting forth customs which are not lawful for us to receive or observe, since we are Romans.” Now, this incident happened in Philippi, which is part of Greece, in the eastern Macedonian region. But of course this whole area was part of the Roman Empire at the time, which is why these men say, “We are Romans.”
It seems like a strange charge to level against these two apostles in response to their exorcism of this slave girl. You would think they would accuse them of ruining their property or something like that instead. But no, they said that they were “setting forth customs which are not lawful for us to receive or observe, since we are Romans.” Were they just lying?
Certainly, we know that Ss. Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel. But that was not enough for them to be brought up on charges. When they interfered with the commerce that the slave-owners conducted through this girl’s connection with a demon, then they were accused of upsetting the lawful order of this Roman city.
Again, we could read this very cynically, that the slave-owners didn’t care until money got involved. But no doubt the civil magistrates who heard the case took more evidence into account than just the income of the slave-owners. They knew that the apostles had been preaching, but with the exorcism, it was clear that their preaching was now a threat.
It wasn’t merely an economic threat—we cannot imagine that the whole Philippian economy was based on fortune-telling. No, these two apostles represented a much more fundamental threat to the whole pattern of life of the Roman Philippians.
What exactly that threat was will be illustrated clearly by what happens next. The saints are given over to the jailer, who is charged with keeping them safely. The jailer throws them into the inner prison and chains them by their legs. I don’t know exactly what the Philippian prison was like, but many Roman prisons of the period were underground and often very, very unsanitary. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there were no bathrooms, and they didn’t hire exterminators. So it is likely that Ss. Paul and Silas were in a very dark, disgusting, horrifying place, almost like a place of living death.
And then the Scripture says that it was about midnight, and while they sat there in that dark, horrible place, they were praying and singing hymns. It was, in a sense, almost like the righteous saints waiting in the darkness of Hades, lifting their hearts up to God even in the midst of death and imprisonment.
And then, as at the Harrowing of Hades—an earthquake!
The foundations of the prison shook, and the earthquake released all the captives from their bonds, and so the jailer rushed in looking for them. Fearing that he had failed at his one task of keeping the prisoners in their chains, he drew his sword and was about to end his own life.
St. Paul called out to him loudly, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And then, the Scripture says: “He called for lights and rushed in, and fell down before Paul and Silas trembling with fear, and brought them out and said, ‘Masters, what must I do to be saved?’”
Let’s stop here for a moment. This, again, seems very weird. Why would he say that?
Some have said that he figured that he was going to be executed as a failure at his One Job as a jailer. So the salvation he asked about was salvation from execution by his Roman superior—earlier, he figured suicide was the more honorable option. And it is plausible that he would fear for his life, now that he had decided not to take it himself.
But what doesn’t make sense is that he would go to Ss. Paul and Silas to ask about a way out from his shame. How would he have thought they could save him? No, I don’t think he is asking about how to be saved from execution.
Rather, I think that the jailer must have heard from them the gospel. He had heard from them about Christ the conqueror of the pagan gods that ruled even Philippi. He had heard that Christ is both the Most High God and man. He had heard that Christ had died and risen from the dead. And he had heard that Christ was coming to judge every man according to his works.
That means that this jailer, looking upon these men who could not only drive out a fortune-telling demon from a slave girl but had also been spared by their God from destruction underground in the midst of an earthquake, knew that he was looking at representatives of the Lord and Master of the new order that was coming. And that is why he calls them “Masters” and asks them what he has to do to be saved, that is, saved from the justice that is coming when the conquering King is again manifest.
And that is why Ss. Paul and Silas were thrown into prison—not because they had ruined the fortunes of the slave-owners who were exploiting the slave girl with the demon, but because they were a real threat to the whole spiritual order of Philippi.
They had come preaching Christ the conqueror of death, Christ to Whom all authority in heaven and earth had been returned, Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Lord of Hosts Himself. And they proved that they were His heralds when they drove out spirits before them. And they proved it when they were thrust down into the darkness of imprisonment and saved even from death in an earthquake.
We live in a world that is not dominated by demonic rule in the way that ancient pagan cities like Roman Philippi had been. Christ harrowed Hades, rose from the dead, and knocked those demons from their thrones of power. So they are on the run. And they are losing. But they are causing a lot of destruction in their retreat, hacking and burning as they go, as defeated armies do.
We were reminded of this reality quite viciously and chillingly this past week, that demons still can influence both individuals and whole societies to bring darkness and death. We are not free from their evil yet, so long as people cooperate with them to bring it into the world.
But justice is indeed coming, the very justice of God. This justice will wipe away every shred of demonic rule and influence from creation and set everything right. The cries for justice of those who have been crushed beneath the heels of the powerful and the violent have been heard by God, and they will be vindicated.
It is within this context that we, too, ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Because evil comes into the world through us, too, and justice is coming. And we hear and obey the words of the apostles to the Philippian jailer: “Become faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Those first words are sometimes translated “Believe in,” but it is really “Become faithful to.” Even demons believe what is true (James 2:19), but the difference is that they are unfaithful. Both that jailer and we are called not merely to believe but to become faithful.
That’s the call. That’s the challenge to us. And that is the choice that lies before us.
To the conquering Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen! He truly is risen!