Tuesday, May 19, 2009


First Reading: Acts 16:22-34
Psalm: Ps 138:1-3, 7c-8
Gospel: Jn 16:5-11


When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted out in a loud voice, "Do no harm to yourself; we are all here." - Acts 16:27-28

In today's reading, Paul and Silas are publicly beaten and jailed. What was their crime? Healing a child possessed by a demon. In the night, an earthquake frees them from the prison, but they do not flee. Why? There are a few accounts in the book of Acts where the apostles are freed from prison by miraculous events. This one, however, is unique in that those freed do not immediately escape from the prison, but stay.

To understand why, we must remember what the laws and customs of the time demanded. At that time, a Roman official charged with watch over a prisoner was subject to death if their prisoner escaped. When Peter and the apostles were imprisoned in Jerusalem, they were confined by the temple guard, so they were not captives of the Romans. Thus, their captors were not subject to this punishment, only an embarrassment that their prisoners were not there in the morning. However, in this case, the jailer is an official within a Roman colony and is very much subject to Roman law. The seriousness of the case is seen when the guard thought it better to take his own life than to be publicly executed.

Paul, as a Roman citizen, knew what the penalty would be for the jailer if they were to leave the prison. It was certainly within his ability to make an exit and leave the guard to his fate, but he does not. His actions suggest to us a compassion toward those who had wrongly beaten and arrested him. Furthermore, we recognize the power of this two verses later: "Then he brought them out and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" (Acts 16:30) If Paul had left, he would have missed the opportunity to bring this man and his family to Christ. As it happened, many more souls were saved, and who knows how greatly their descendants have benefited the Church since then?

In our own lives, do we seek vengeance for the wrongs done to us? Personally, I know that I must work on this in the little things sometimes. Another driver speeds past, cutting me off and nearly causing an accident. When I see them later, signaling to get back into my lane, with a mile of stopped traffic ahead of them, it is difficult not to feel smug that their getting their comeuppance. But the little voice in the back of my mind still asks me, "Are you feeling happy that they are suffering?", and I am forced to stop and ask for forgiveness myself. As Christians, we are not called to settle the score on our own. We are called to be compassionate, to turn the other cheek, and to forgive those who have wronged us.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. - Matthew 6:14-15

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of this day. We are thankful that you are willing to forgive our transgressions against you. We pray that you help us, in turn, to forgive others who have done something to harm us, whether intentionally or not. Give us the gift of your charity, that we might leave justice in your capable hands, and humility, to recognize and apologize for our own sins against others. We ask all of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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