..what must I do...
Week 19, Day 4
Acts 16. 16-34
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16. 30
Imagine this story from the jailer’s point of view.
He’s doing a job—managing a prison for his Roman overlords; a job he’s probably lucky to have, by the way. Fairly simple, really. All he has to do is keep the doors locked and the prisoners confined. Roman jails are well made. He has the key. Not much to it.
Until the day a couple of foreign trouble makers come to town, raise a ruckus, get themselves roughed up and tossed into his jail by the local powers that be. His orders? Keep them securely locked up. He doesn't know what they have done. He doesn’t really care. So, “following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks”. No attention to their wounds. No food or water. That would have to come from their friends, if this riffraff has any friends.
From the start, though, they are a strange pair. They don’t seem to be too put out over their confinement. They spend the evening singing religious songs and offering prayers to their God. A strange religion, he thinks, that has people giving thanks for this kind of trouble.
He checks the locks and goes off to bed.
At midnight the earth quakes. “The gods must be angry tonight” is his first thought. Even angrier than he imagined, it turns out.
The doors are blown off his prison. Chains and stocks lie strewn about with no prisoners attached. He assumes, quite reasonably, that they have all fled. Then, he remembers the night before—the songs and prayers to a God he had never heard of sung by men who had no hope of escape.
In his day the gods were everywhere, you know; and active in everything that happened—especially in strange and unexplainable events. Like earthquakes, for instance. Like chains falling off prisoners, for instance.
His conclusion must have been as clear as it was immediate. “The God these men prayed to last night did this. The God of these men—the men I held in prison, set them free; and now he’s coming for me”.
Who wants to fall into the hands of that God? Who wants to imagine the havoc a God of such power would visit on the body of a poor jailer. Who wants to be flattened beneath a divine earthquake? There is no salvation—no safety, before such raw strength and savage wrath.
The jailer pulls out his sword. He will fall on his sword, avoiding the agony of falling into the hands of a God he does not know, cannot understand and fears with every fiber of his being. Death, he figures, will be sweet compared to life before this earth quaking God.
Right about now, the poor man could use a little saving.
Salvation—not from his sins but from his ignorance. Salvation from a religion that endlessly pits people against the divine; giving all the advantages to the gods and all the misery to the people. Salvation into a world where divine kindness is a birthright; where divine grace is the air to be breathed; where God’s presence is welcomed rather than feared.
Fact is, we could all use a little saving, don’t you think?
We could all use “a little mercy now”.
Prayer: Save us, Merciful God, from unfounded fears, mistaken identity and religion without hope. Save us, Gracious God, into a world where to breathe in is to receive your Spirit and to breathe out is to express your love. Amen.