There’s a wonderful practice growing in the field of justice that takes the healing of victims and their communities seriously. It’s called “restorative justice.”
Restorative justice is the radical and compassionate understanding that, when people are hurt, there is no healing until everyone in the immediate and larger community are healed.
And so a crime is committed, and the perpetrator doesn’t just go to trial and go to jail. No, it is much more personal and in-your-face. The perpetrator has to meet face to face with the person they violated- but not just that individual.
The perpetrator also has to stand face to face before the family they hurt, the neighbors who are now afraid to open their doors, the community that they have made to feel less safe. It is intense, personal accountability, because a wrong done sends ripples far and wide. There are always unforeseen repercussions to our actions. For good or evil, we cast a wider influence than we intend.
This series of stories in Acts 6 highlights this sense of the inter-connected-ness of justice.
It starts off with a young woman enslaved to some unsavory men. She has a spirit of divination living inside her, which means she can tell the future. And the men who own her are making a lot of money on her fortune telling. She is a very valuable piece of property.
But then, the spirit within her- a demon? A prophet? The spirit within her compels her to follow the apostles Paul and Silas, and as she follows them, she yells out, “These man are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
She does this for several days, and it’s really getting on Paul’s nerves. So he snaps at the spirit within her, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”
You have to know, he doesn’t do this out of compassion, or out of a desire to set her free. He never follows up with his customary, “Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” He doesn’t try to gain her freedom from her masters, or make sure she’ll be all right now that he’s taken away how she makes a living.
No, he just wants her out of his hair.
What happens to the woman, now that she is no longer of value to her owners? Now that she has lost her ability to make a profit for them, and make a living for herself?
I mean, it’s wonderful that she is no longer inhabited by this spirit… I think.
But what happens to her then? Is she thrown into the streets? Is she sold? Is she just ‘gotten rid of’? Scripture doesn’t say. It just drops her like a hot potato, and we never learn what happens to her because of Paul’s rash statement and lack of concern.
Makes me not like Paul very much right here.
But there are repercussions for Paul’s actions. The slave’s owners come into the magistrates in the marketplace, and seek retribution by telling lies about Paul and Silas- how they are breaking Roman laws and customs, and inciting unlawfulness in their community.
Pretty soon, they get a crowd all riled up, and the magistrates grab Paul and Silas, and have them stripped, and whipped, and thrown into chains in prison.
What started as a pebble dropped into the water with Paul lashing out at the woman has rippled to affect him. And he and Silas are sitting in this dark, dank prison, and they start singing praise to God and praying- witnessing in song and piety to the other prisoners about the power and glory of God.
Points for Paul: joy in the midst of prison.
But then, God sends an earthquake which rattles the prison, breaks open the doors, and looses all the chains which hold the prisoners. Curiously, Paul, Silas and the other prisoners don’t make a run for it, even though they are now free. But the prison guard sees the prison busted open, and he despairs, thinking that all the prisoners he was in charge of have escaped. His life isn’t worth a cockroach right now. So he raises his sword to take his own life.
Paul cries out to him, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!” And the jailer comes to Paul and says,
“What must I do to be saved?”
What is he talking about? Is he talking about how he can be saved from punishment by his higher-ups? That seems to make the most sense. Or is he flabbergasted at having survived the earthquake- terrorized by the living God? Paul takes his question as an invitation to the gospel, and he tells him, “Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved.”
And the jailer takes Paul and Silas to his home, and he and his family are all baptized.
And then more kudos to Paul and Silas: they go back to the prison, so the newly converted jailer won’t face repercussions.
I wish they had considered that with the slave girl, but at least they thought it through for this jailer.
They are freed the next day, and Paul and Silas make the magistrates publicly apologize for what they did. Another good part of restorative justice: no one who commits an injustice gets off scot-free without having to make amends. Even the politicians and authorities. That’s good.
The ripples have traveled further and further. First the exorcizing of the slave girl, then Paul and Silas being thrown into prison, and now the jailer and his family being brought into the faith, and the authorities compelled to make a public apology.
One action always spurs another, and there is never a deed or a word that doesn’t have unintended consequences, for good or evil. But the one thing that always remains true is this: That no one is healed until all are healed. That as long as there are wounded among us, there will always be repercussions for each of us. And we’d better watch what we say and do, because a word never stops at our lips. And the hurt we cause, as well as the good we do, will always come back to us and those we love.
Where is the gospel in this? Where is the good news. The One who holds us accountable does it for our own healing. And when all are healed, we will be too.
The jailer’s question stays with me: “What shall I do to be saved?”
Ultimately, I think it might look like the final judgement. It’s not a pearly gate or a fiery pit.
It’s God holding us all together in God’s hand, making us look at each other and all that we’ve done- the good and the bad. A loving Parent who will never let us go…never let us go…until we are all healed.
In the Name of the One who will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR JUNE 2, 2019
ACTS 16:16-33 (paraphrased)
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that could predict the future, and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These man are slave s of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!”
She kept doing this for many days, and Paul was getting irked. So he turned and snapped at the spirit within the girl, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities. They started slandering them, saying, “These men are disturbing our city! They are Jews, and are advocating customs that aren’t lawful for us Romans.”
The crowd, roared, and the magistrates had us stripped, flogged and chained in prison. About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of God, and the other prisoners were all listening to them.
Suddenly an earthquake shook the foundations of the prison, and all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains broke off. When the jailer woke up and saw all the doors open, he started to kill himself because he assumed all the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul cried out, “We are all here! Don’t harm yourself!” And the jailer came to Paul and Silas and said, “What must I do to be saved?” And they replied, “Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved.” And the jailer and his family were all baptized.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today