Easter 7 - Year C
The prison doors open and out they come. The prison doors open and out they don't come. Apparently the key element is not the prison doors. We are not determined by how prison doors work or don't work.
How would you respond to people who did not escape their difficulty at the first opportunity? Surely tradition and previous experience says, "Open doors? Go out!" But here a concern for the larger tradition and experience means we need to play against previous interpretations of the situation.
A result of this is that the jailer became baptized, perhaps wanting to have the same assurance that he noted in those he was to be intimidating. Instilling fear is nowhere near as fun and exciting as evidencing assurance.
If the lection were to continue we would hear that folks not only did not try to escape at the earliest possible moment but stood their ground within the prison, refusing to come out.
In today's world there is a need to again pay attention to such extreme examples of fidelity to cause. Listen again to Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
"But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
For what would you "stay in jail until the end of your days"?
Ahh, the unintended consequence. It rises up on a regular enough basis. You can practically guarantee, however, that it will show up fairly quickly when acting out of annoyance, fear, or spite.
Ahh, the unexpected opportunity. It, too, rises up on a regular enough basis. However, we can't count on it in a pinch. Sometimes, as here, we refuse the opening offered and an even larger opening comes along. Sometimes we don't catch on quickly enough to our opportunity or refuse it in hope of a larger opening coming along behind, only to find it quickly gone.
As you go through the day, pause in your annoyance and anticipate a further consequence; listen in the presence of your opportunity for the necessity of a quick or slow response.
- - -
here we go again
old mr doing what he doesn't want
using religious power
to no particular good end
what an old old story this is
including an even older story
of a second chance
not to chase but import spirit
moving from causing wounds
to washing wounds
we recapitulate our faith journey
again and again
Who knows what you will find on your way to a place of prayer! So, designate your next travel destination as a place of prayer.
Going to the car - go to a place of prayer.
Going to get groceries - go to a place of prayer.
Going for a walk - go to a place of prayer.
Going to visit __(their name here)__ - go to a place of prayer.
Going to work - go to a place of prayer.
Going to bed - go to a place of prayer.
Going to study - go to a place of prayer.
Going to commit a crime - go to a place of prayer.
See if that changes how you use your car (maybe you'll listen to a different station or yield when you didn't absolutely have to).
See if that changes what food you get (more veggies and less red meat) and whether you get extra for the community pantry.
See if that changes how you can see the neighborhood or the woods (in more detail).
See if that changes what your conversation is about (how is it with your soul and with mine and our).
See if that changes your engagement with task and money earned (try The Complete Idiot's Guide to Spirituality in the Workplace).
See if that changes your dreams (a vision of how you might participate in a better future).
See if that changes accumulated knowledge into understanding (move from information to implementation).
See if that changes your options (how one might build up rather than tear down).
Remember - you can always be on the way to a place of prayer.
For now we will leave the spirituality of not escaping for another time and simply ask about everyday life. The theory is that careful attention here will open us to making a difference (fast or slow) in someone else's life and simply being faithful in difficult moments.