But Paul replied, “They have beaten us in public, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not! Let them come and take us out themselves.” – Acts 16:37 (NRSV)
Paul’s ministry as recounted in the Book of Acts includes many close escapes. This verse from the end of chapter 16 may sound like a dramatic call-out, but it’s actually the morning-after epilogue of a supernatural event. The night before, an earthquake shook the jail, opening the doors and unleashing the chains of the prisoners. Paul and his ministry colleague Silas did not take the opportunity to escape. The jailer was grateful; his fate at the hands of the authorities might have been terrible if they had. He took them home and fed them and dressed their wounds. The jailer’s appreciation opened the way to a conversion experience for his household, and they all were baptized.
We have to imagine that the word got around, because in the morning, the authorities in town sent the police to order that Paul and Silas be let go. I’m sure they didn’t want any more earthquakes! Yet Paul objects. Why should these authorities be able to let them go without saying so themselves? Each time he is offered an easy way out, Paul is clear about his alliances, and chooses words and actions that honor God’s call on his life.
The work of telling the truth is as hard now as it was then. Can we channel Paul’s commitment to be allies to the vulnerable and call the authorities to account?
Holy God, give us courage to be present, to be clear about our commitments, and to speak truth to those in power. Amen.
Martha Spong is a UCC pastor, a clergy coach, and editor of The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle, from The Pilgrim Press.