Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 40 | Acts 16
Acts 16 Reflections and Questions
By Amy King
Wednesday – Read Acts 16
When I picked this passage for my devotion, I did so because I had fond memories of this passage. I did not realize that I was going to come away from this scripture with a different viewpoint.
Growing up in rural Alabama, I did not know about Lake Junaluska or Camp Glisson, but I did know about Camp Back 40. Rev. Dan Small and his wife Billie Ruth, Baptist Missionaries, ran this camp for the children of Cleburne County, and the surrounding area, for years and years. True to its name it was tucked back into the wilds of Fruithurst, Alabama, down a long dirt road, with screened in bunk houses and a water heater that could never provide enough hot water for all the young people. I do not remember all the details of what we learned at Camp Back 40, but I do remember the book of Acts.
This one particular summer Rev. Dan decided to teach us the book of Acts using a giant map on the wall, dressed not as Rev. Dan, but as Paul. We were transported from the wooden benches in the tabernacle, our open-air pavilion that served as church, to Lystra, then Troas, and then eventually to Macedonia.
Thursday – Read Acts 16:1-12
As we entered Lystra with Mr. Dan, we soon meet Timothy, whose example would later remind us to not let people look down upon us because of our youth. Of course, an entire camp full of young people were excited about Timothy joining the ranks. We could see ourselves in Timothy. Young people, desperately wanting to know more about Jesus. But Timothy had to change. Much like we had to change. Because although his mother was Jewish, his father was not, so traditional customs had apparently not been recognized because of his father’s Greek identity. So, Timothy was circumcised. Although I am pretty sure Mr. Dan did not mention this fact. In general, the girls at Camp Back 40 greatly outnumbered the boys, so that is just not a fact that he would have brought up. But it does make me wonder, who have we tried to bring into our own southern, Christian, Methodist ranks who does not look like us? Who have we tried to fit into our very specific molds? What do we make people remove from their lives to fit into those molds?
Friday – Read Acts 16:13-15
Here we meet Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, who had my attention immediately, as at that age purple was my favorite color. And we did not just hear of the tale of Lydia, we got to meet her as Mrs. Billie sailed in wearing robes and wrapped in purple cloth. I should also add that I was enamored of Mrs. Billie as she had been my teacher for several years, and I was very much her class pet. So of course, her portrayal of Lydia had my eyes full of stars. She was so full of faith as she responded to Paul’s message, having her whole household baptized, and then inviting Paul into her home. But maybe I loved the story of Lydia because I can picture her as someone I love. And I wonder where else in scripture I can picture people because of church plays or children’s Sunday School lessons, and I miss something in the story because I do not see the full identity of the person in the scripture because I picture them as someone I know. Lydia was not an older Southern Baptist Missionary lady. She held a role of power in Philippi, she had her own business and her own home. And she became the first convert in Europe. What happens to our reading of scripture when we try to fit ourselves into it? Where do we go wrong about who we are in the story?
Saturday – Acts 16:16-21
And then Paul meets the female slave who names him as who he is and reveals his real purpose for being in Macedonia. Mr. Dan did not teach us about this unnamed female slave. I had forgotten that she was why Paul and Silas were thrown in jail. She was almost a surprise when I read this passage. Luke tells us that she followed them around several days and annoyed Paul, so he calls out the spirit. She was a roadblock for Paul and a profit machine for her owners. He frees her from the spirit that had overtaken her, but he does not free her from slavery. It is easy to get angry at Paul as I read this passage. I am angry at Paul when I read this passage.
But maybe I should be angry at myself. I do not know why recently re-reading this passage was the first time I noticed her. But also, I will be honest, I have not really read Acts a lot. You know, you learn it at Bible camp, and you think you know everything right? Maybe I missed her because I could not imagine her as someone I loved. I could not put someone from my past in her position. I had never seen someone in chains, bound by both slavery and a spirit of divination. I could not humanize her. And so, I missed her. Who do we miss when they do not look like us or talk like us? Whose chains are we not seeing?
Sunday – Read this prayer from Walter Brueggemann
Monday – Acts 16: 22 – 34
And then we find Paul and Silas in jail. The people of Philippi revolted against them for taking someone’s livelihood, however horrible it might be. And they are tossed in jail and find themselves in chains. Mr. Dan once again had a captive audience as he told us of Paul and Silas singing praises to God, even in jail, even in chains, and then miracle among miracles, an earthquake. I am sure that a bunch of kids from rural Alabama had no clue what an earthquake was at the time, but we knew it set Paul and Silas free. Except they did not leave. Maybe they knew that their freedom could lead to the jailer’s demise. Maybe they were in shock. But here our tale of adventure leads us to the jailer discovering his wards, chains broken free, prison cells opened, and immediately he decides to take his own life. Thankfully, Paul stopped him before he succeeded and he fell down trembling, asking what he needed to do to be saved. Then, much like Lydia, he came to know Jesus along with all his household. And once again Paul and Silas were shown incredible hospitality in Philippi. When have we, like Paul and Silas, been freed from chains we did not leave? What is it about Jesus that takes someone from the person who locks a prison cell to a person who opens their home to prisoners?
Tuesday – Acts 16:35-40
We have finally made it to the end of Paul’s journey in Acts 16. We find Paul and Silas back securely in the jail, and they are told that the chief magistrates have decided to release them. And of course, Paul gets his hackles up about being imprisoned in a Roman colony, when he was a Roman citizen. He does not want this swept under the rug as if it did not happen. He did not want to be punished in public and then released in private. The judges did not want the citizens to know that a Roman citizen had been punished without a trial, so they brought them out of the jail and pleaded with them to leave the city. Which they did, but not without making a stop by the house of Lydia, where they were encouraged the new believers there before leaving. When, like Paul, have we wanted a wrong righted so that others could see the restitution? When, like the judges, have we been afraid to have our wrongs brought to light? And when, like the believers in Lydia’s household, have we been encouraged by someone who recently has found themselves free?
Amy King is the North Georgia Conference Benefits Officer.