Seventh Sunday of Easter (C)
If you can get your hands on Will Willimon's Interpretation commentary on Acts, check out his essay on Acts 16:11-40 (pp. 136-41). It's a tightly woven piece—almost a sermon in itself—on who is free and who is enslaved in the interlocking stories of Acts 16.
Thanks to Paul's annoyance and the power of the name of Jesus, the slave girl who was caught in the grip of demon possession becomes free, "Yet no, she is not free. She is a slave, someone who is not a person but a piece of property" (139). Are her "free" owners free enough to rejoice in her healing? No way. They respond to the slave girl's freedom by engineering a lock-up for the apostles. Later, when Paul, Silas and the others are beaten, bloody, locked in the innermost cell of the jail and shackled besides, they are strangely free to sing. Is the jailer free? Not after the chains come off, at which point he decides that suicide will be the least objectionable way to die if his prisoners have escaped. "Having a key to someone else's cell does not make you free" (140).
"By the end of the story," Willimon concludes, "everyone who at first appeared to be free—the girl's owners, the judges, the jailer—is a slave. And everyone who first appeared to be enslaved—the poor girl, Paul, and Silas—is free" (140). There is certainly more going on in this story than just the contrast between freedom and enslavement, yet the contrast is a good way into the story and a very good angle for a sermon.