How many doors do you think you go through every day? Front, back, side, garage, gates, swinging, revolving, automatic, elevator…prison?
The apostle Paul got himself in a number of tangles as an itinerant evangelist in the first century, and the story linked above is one of the most memorable. Having liberated a female slave from her spiritual bondage, her owners threw Paul and Silas in prison for jeopardizing their revenue source! Never worry — God isn’t scared by prisons.
One of the more fascinating characters in this story is the jailer himself. Frederick Buechner notes that in a sense we’re all the “Jailer.” We wall ourselves behind the stone and steel of repression, denial, and concealment in an effort to stay safe. The irony is that we are in bondage. The good news is that God liberates the oppressed!
When Paul’s prison doors are flung wide open, the jailer knows that he’d be better off committing suicide than facing the punishment for his failure as a prison guard. But Paul knows better. Shouting “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!” Paul embodies this poignant truth:
Alone, death seems inevitable.
But together, God opens doors to new life.
Paul knew that his freedom would be no freedom at all if it came at the expense of his jailer. His freedom was given by God SO THAT he could be a liberating agent for the jailer.
This story does have a happy ending — the sparing of the jailer’s life and the baptism of him and his family. But it came at a cost to Paul and Silas — flogging, humiliation and prison. The reality is that the Christ-community has battles to fight and must at times persevere great challenges. But the end is worth the means — salvation and feasting as God’s Community.
- Imagine you’re Paul or Silas. What would your first reaction be when your prison doors swung open?
- Have you ever experienced the oppression of loneliness, as the jailer did in his moment of desperation?
- Have you ever experienced the joy and freedom of community?
- What can you do in the spheres of community in which you live to live out Paul’s message to the jailer: “We’re all here!” To whom might that matter most in your world?