Saturday, October 11, 2014

St Paul in Phillipi

The sun blazed down into the courtyard on the small group working with canvas and rope. The heat was stifling. One, the youngest, groaned. One of the others, also young, but a little older, laughed.
'Too hot for you, Luke?' he asked. Luke grunted.
'It's too hot for anyone, Silas!' he complained.
'Get some water, then.'
There was a large stone jar standing in the shade of one wall. Luke went over and filled the cup balanced on its brim. The water was cool and welcome, as was the shade. Luke took his time, drinking the water slowly. The other man, older than the others looked up.
'Come along,' he said sharply. 'These people are paying us. Standing there idle is cheating them.' Luke put the cup back and went unwillingly back into the sun and his work. As he knelt back down and picked up some canvas and an awl he muttered something under his breath.
'What was that?' said the older man.
'I said, I don't know why we're here anyway, Paul,' said the boy. 'I thought we had come here to tell people about Jesus. But we seem to be spending all our time making tents and awnings!'
Paul shrugged.
'If we don't work, we don't eat,' he said simply.
'But spreading the Good News is work. And doesn't the ox deserve its share of the grain it threshes?' he added, quoting the old Hebrew proverb.
Paul smiled.
'Right you are. But until there is fruit from our labour, there is no share for us. When there are enough new brothers and sisters to the faith here, then those who teach them the Lord's Way won't need to do other work.'
'Yes, but we'll move on to another city when that happens,' said Luke, with a hint of impatience in his voice.
'That's true,' said Paul gently. 'It's our task to go to a city, begin the work, and then when enough has been done for the faith to grow, to go elsewhere to do the same for others. It is what the Lord calls us to do. If we did not, then those others would not hear the Lord's word. Would you want that?'
'No, Paul,' said Luke, ashamed. 'But I do wish we could stay somewhere long enough to relax and not spend all our days in the hot sun!'
Paul smiled at him.
'And that you could perhaps spend more time at your medical studies?' he suggested gently. 'I know how you feel; I sometimes wish I was back in my cool, quiet room in Jerusalem, studying scripture peacefully with the other rabbis, than living like a vagabond travelling round the Empire, never knowing where I'll be from one week to the next. But I'd rather that I was hot and tired than someone else miss out on the chance of salvation. Anyway, it's time for a break.'
They wrapped up their tools carefully and put them in their bags. The tools were their livelihood; without them, they couldn't work. And without work, they couldn't preach. They left the courtyard and entered into the bustle of the narrow streets of Phillipi, heading towards the synagogue for the afternoon prayers before eating. The cobbles were hard under their feet, but Luke didn't mind. The high houses created shade below, which Luke welcomed after the heat of the open courtyard.
Suddenly, someone started shouting.
These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ Luke looked to where the voice was coming from. It was a young girl, a slave if her rough tunic was anything to judge by. She was pointing her finger at Paul, Silas, and Luke. She shouted out her words again, still pointing. And then again. Luke found it unnerving.
'How does she know about us?' he said to Silas, uneasily. 'Has someone told her about us?'
'I don't think so,' said Silas. 'How could they? We haven't been here long. Hardly anyone knows us.'
'She has a demon,' said Paul grimly.
'What?' said Silas and Luke together, startled.
'Aye, the poor girl is possessed.'
'Yes,' said a passing man, who looked amused at the reaction the strangers were giving the girl. 'The slave is well known in this part of the city. She has a spirit of divination in her; and her masters make a pretty penny from her fortune telling!'
'Come away,' said Paul. He walked on down the street, with companions following. But the girl followed too, still shouting again and again: These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’
'Why does she do that?' said Luke to Paul. 'She's telling everyone about us? That's good for what we're doing here, isn't it? If she has a demon, why would it help us?'
'It isn't helping us,' said Paul, a hard edge in his voice, as he walked on through the crowd not looking back at the girl. 'Demons try to gain power over you by naming you. It's naming us as God's servants in the hope of controlling us. And following us around shouting like she's doing isn't going to help us in the least. We'll become known as the ones the slave girls chases around, pointing and yelling. We'll be a laughing stock.'
'So why not cast the demon out?' said Silas. 'Jesus could. He gave his apostles the authority to do so also. And didn't they give us that same authority when they laid hands on us and sent us out to tell the world the good news?'
'Indeed,' said Paul. 'But it was no accident that that man told us she was a slave earning money for her owners because of this demon. Cast it out and they won't be pleased with us; and that might interfere with our work here.'
'But the girl,' said Luke. 'Isn't it wrong to leave the demon in her? Demons are evil!'
'Yes,' said Paul, stroking his thin beard thoughtfully. 'But everything we do must be to advance our mission. Jesus didn't run around healing everyone and chasing down demons. When he healed, and he healed a lot of people, it was with a purpose. And that purpose was so that people could understand who he was: God's Son. Right now, I don't know that casting out that girl's demon would help us in our work. But I could be wrong. It is something for us to pray about. And, as it happens, here we are at the synagogue. So let us pray!'
The girl followed Paul and the others for many days. When they were at work, in the relative privacy of the courtyard, she left them alone. But every time they emerged, whether to go to the synagogue for prayers, or to eat, or simply to walk to their lodgings in the evening, there she was, shouting her message which the three men found increasingly tiresome. And as Paul had predicted, it was causing them to become something of a joke in the city: people would point and jeer as the three walked by followed by the shouting girl.
'You'd think her owners would make her stop,' moaned Silas, on the third day. 'After all, where's the profit for them in letting the girl torment us?'
Paul snorted.
'They know that the demon is in control. And if this is what it wants then they have to let it do as it pleases. They'd earn nothing from it if they to make it do something else.'
'But what are we going to do? We're bringing the faith to no one this way!' said Luke. 'And the girl is giving me a headache.'
'And I really hate the way people are staring at us all the time,' said Silas. 'People are following us just so they can laugh at us.'
It was true. A small crowd had started to follow them every time they appeared with the girl, so they could joke and sneer at they way the girl made the men so uncomfortable.
Suddenly, Paul stopped.
'Enough of this,' he said. 'Letting this continue hinders what God sent us here to do. And he can not want that. And it breaks my heart to see what this demon does to this poor child. God can not want us to allow it to continue. I'm sure this will mean trouble for us. But perhaps God's purpose will also be served.'
He turned to the girl. She stopped in her tracks. Suddenly, for the first time in days while she was close to them she was silent. There was a strange look on her face. To Luke's amazement, it almost seemed as if she had two faces, one over the other. The face of the girl looked at them pleadingly, as if begging them to help her; but the other face looked at them with hatred and fear, a twisted mask that seemed to hang over the girl's true face like mist or smoke. Luke shuddered.
'Do you see that?' he whispered to Silas. His friend only nodded. Paul raised his hand high in the air with his palm toward the girl and spoke.
I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’
The girl shrieked and fell to the ground. She rolled back and forth for a few moments and then stopped.
'It's gone,' she said, sitting up. 'I'm free. I'm free!'
A gasp of amazement went through the crowd. They couldn't understand what they were seeing. But at least one understood all to well.
'Oh, no, you're not free,' cried a rough voice. A tall, bearded man emerged from the crowd. 'You're a slave; my slave, mine and my partners. And these fools have cost us money, because if the spirit of divination is gone out of you, then so is the way that you earn us gold!'
Someone in the crowd chuckled. The man turned on him angrily.
'Find it funny do you? Well, you wouldn't be laughing if it was your income that had dried up, would you? Why should these foreigners be allowed to come here and interfere with the business of honest Macedonians? And if they can do it to me, what's to stop them from doing it to you next? If they keep this up, pretty soon we'll all be out of work.'
There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd. A moment later someone shouted:
'Seize them!' and another
'Take them to the magistrates!'
The mob surged forward. Luke was pushed back, away from the others. His head banged against the wall and he slid down, seeing stars. Before he knew it he crowd was gone, and his two friends with them. All that remained was the slave girl, standing over him.
'Let me help you up,' she said, holding out a hand. He took it and got up, still trying to shake the pain and the fuzziness out of his head.
'My friends!' he gasped.
'They've taken them to the market place,' she said, pointing down the street.
'I must go there,' said Luke, starting to walk in the direction she indicated. But as soon as he tried to walk, he stumbled and had to grab at the wall to stay standing.
'You're in no state to go anywhere,' said the girl. 'You need to lie down and rest. Sleep until you feel better'
'Sleeping isn't good if you've hit your head,' said Luke. The girl smiled at him.
'What are you, a doctor?'
'No, but I've studied medicine a little. I hope to do some more, some day when …'
'When you've had some rest, stopped chasing demons, and aren't so busy running around the world saving souls,' she said with a laugh.
She helped them back to their lodgings, and settled him on his mat, leaving a cool pitcher of water beside him.
'Don't worry about your friends,' she said. 'I'll go see what happened them. Try not to sleep!' And she was gone.
She didn't come back. Luke didn't blame her. She was a slave, after all. Her owners must have found her and sent her off to do whatever new work she would be doing for them now that the demon was gone. And in spite of himself, Luke did sleep. When he woke it was daylight and quite late, almost noon. Paul and Silas were there, smiling at him.
'We were worried,' said Paul. That's an ugly bruise on your forehead.'
'Not too worried,' said Silas. 'We knew you could look after yourself. After all, you're almost a doctor!'
'Not quite,' said Luke, sitting up.
'Anyway,' said Paul, starting to move around the room, gathering things. 'As you're awake, we need to get going.'
'Back to work?' said Luke, with a groan. Paul shook his head.
'Time to move on. We've had quite a night. After the mob grabbed us, they took us to the judges. They had us beaten – we'll need you to look at these cuts and bruises later, my not quite a doctor, friend - and then cast us into prison. But as we were lying there in chains, the Lord sent an earthquake and burst the doors open! The jailer thought we had escaped and was going to kill himself …'
'Why?' interrupted Luke.
'Oh, he'd be in serious trouble if his prisoners escaped. Quite a few of the others were murderers and bandits who'd been sentenced to be crucified. If they escape, he's liable to take their place. He thought a quick death by the sword was better than days hanging on the cross in the hot sun dying slowly. But the Lord inspired me to know what he was thinking and I called out to him to stop. That and all that he'd already heard about us was enough to make him realise that he should listen to us. Before you know it, not only he, but his whole household, children, servants, and slaves were asking to be baptised!'
'But if you didn't escape, then how did you get out?' asked Luke. Paul shrugged.
'They were going to let us go anyway. It's not like there are laws against casting out demons! But our work here is done. After our night in prison, there are enough new followers of Christ to keep things going here. And anyway, I think the girl's owners are the kind of men who'll hold a grudge; they'd keep interfering and stirring people up against us. For now, our being here would damage the spreading of the message. Time for us to move on to the next city and let others continue the work here.'
'Just like I said,' sighed Luke.
'Just like you said,' laughed Silas.
After they had gone through the city gates, Luke looked back. There, framed in the light of the gate, stood someone waving. Luke squinted, but he couldn't make out who it was. Paul, seeing what he was doing, looked back also.
'It's that girl,' he said. Realising who it was, Luke waved back.
'I'm sorry I didn't a chance to say goodbye,' he said. 'She helped me after you two were dragged off.'
'I'm sure she understands,' said Paul gently. Luke shrugged.
'And I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to her about Jesus. I would have liked for her to know about him.' Paul stopped.
'I think she already does know. She spent days following us around, hearing what the demon had to say about us. And she knows I cast the demon out, in the power of Christ's name. She knows Jesus in a way that few can ever know him. She'll have a hunger for him now, a hunger to know more. And as the jailer and his families and the others we left behind begin to do their part of the work, she'll hear about them and go to them and be baptised also. And then she'll tell others about what Jesus did for her and be a powerful witness for bringing other souls to Christ.'
'Do you really think so?' said Luke, joyfully.
'Oh, yes,' said Paul confidently. 'How could others not come to Christ having heard her story. In fact, we must be sure to tell others about it ourselves.'
'Yes,' said Luke thoughtfully. He began to rummage around in his bag. Silas looked at him curiously.
'What are you doing?'
'Looking for a scrap of papyrus and a bit of charcoal I have.'
'Why?'
'To make notes. If we're going to tell others stories like this, we need to take careful notes, so we don't get any of the details wrong.'
Paul smiled.
'A good idea, my young doctor,' he said. 'Remind me to tell you some of my other adventures. You can take notes about those too.'
Luke groaned.
'What?' grinned Silas.
'I think I've just taken on something that's going to be more work than making tents and awnings – writing down everything that happens.'

And laughing, they walked on towards their next city.

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