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Captive and Imprisoned

Lectionary reflections for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (C)

By Johncy Itty

 

Readings for Easter 7, Year C, May 23, 2004

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

 

As we draw closer to the season of Pentecost, we are constantly reminded of the power of God to change human hearts, minds, and attitudes. On the eve of Pentecost, we pray that the presence of the Holy Spirit will help to inform and direct the course of our lives as members of a Christian family.

Our meditations for the seventh Sunday in Easter include a well-known passage from the book of Acts in which Paul and Silas were imprisoned and caused to suffer a great deal because of their faith and their steadfast proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Despite their mistreatment and false arrest, Paul and Silas slowly transformed the minds and hearts of their captors and others who were imprisoned, through their deep sense of faith and, especially, their behavior. Our text notes: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”

[W]e hear very distressing and painful stories of abused prisoners held in Iraqi prisoners under the authority of U.S. troops. . . Unless we are centered with strong value systems and clearly identify with a faith tradition that affirms the dignity of every human being, the difference between oppressor and oppressed remains less a matter of substance than of context.

In our newspapers and other media, we hear very distressing and painful stories of abused prisoners held in Iraqi prisoners under the authority of U.S. troops. While this shameful conduct does not reflect or mirror the pattern of behavior by the vast majority of U.S. soldiers, the incident does reveal the potential for human beings to act inhumanely towards others during times of overt hostility. Unless we are centered with strong value systems and clearly identify with a faith tradition that affirms the dignity of every human being, the difference between oppressor and oppressed remains less a matter of substance than of context.

Paul and Silas behaved differently because they truly believed in the power of Almighty God to change hearts and minds in a positive way. Their captors were overwhelmed, not so much by how a violent earthquake freed the chains and opened the doors of those imprisoned, but by the desire of those imprisoned to wish their captors no harm. Indeed, Paul and Silas told their jailors, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Furthermore, the jailor and his whole family came to know the love of God as they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

This passage reveals not only the magnitude and degree of change that is possible in human life, but also how intentional we must be as Christians in working to be agents of change. As Christians we are called to a ministry of reconciliation, transformation, and renewal. Our own behavior and our own willingness to effect that change is defined by our own relationship to the risen Christ.

The capacity to be different and to act differently because Christ is the center of our being is one of the best means of sharing the Good News. Our commitment to recognizing and appreciating the best that is possible in others reflect the best qualities of what it means to be truly human. As disciples of Jesus, we all find ourselves captive and imprisoned by a number of things that separate us from Christ and from one another. We may be imprisoned by fears, prejudices, attitudes, anger, and a multitude of other feelings that swell up during times of stress.

At times like this, when we are unable to manage the complexities of life or circumstance, may we be drawn to the power of the Holy Spirit to help us deal with those areas of life for which we find ourselves ill-equipped, uninformed, or unprepared. In all things may the mind of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, direct us to fulfilling the God's work during the course of our lives. May the Holy Spirit work within us to bring a sense of joy, centered peace, and a deep sense of compassion in our work and witness with others, in the name of Christ.

 

The Rt. Rev. Johncy Itty, Ph.D., is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon . He has been active for many years on domestic and global social justice issues on the Presiding Bishop's staff and on behalf of the Anglican Communion at the United Nations. He also represents the Episcopal Church on the executive board of Church World Service, and chairs its Education and Advocacy Committee for International Justice and Human Rights. Johncy may be reached by email at johncyi@diocese-oregon.org .