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It's a bit late for a Sunday sermon, but I do want to say a quick word about today's text from Acts: bible.oremus.org/?ql=426520914
Let's start with a quick summary of the pericope: after meeting success with the conversion of Lydia and her household, Paul and his companions quickly run into trouble in Philippi.
A girl or perhaps a young woman with a "spirit of divination" follows them around crying out "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation!"
Which is true, but which apparently gets old after a while, because Paul loses his patience and casts out the spirit.
Trouble is, this is a slave girl whose masters - plural - have been tricking her out as a fortune-teller (language intended). They're irate with Paul's people, and raise a xenophobic mob to beat them and throw them in jail.
A well-timed earthquake leads to the apostles' jailer being converted and helping them win their release.
This story has xenophobia, antisemitism, unjust detention, human trafficking. How much more relevant could you make it?
But we need to be careful not to read the story too much through our own lenses, however.

It's true the mob is distressingly familiar. "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us!" they cry out.
They always blame the Jews and the immigrants, don't they?
But look at this slave girl. The "spirit of divination" that possesses her is literally a "spirit of python."

Say what?
Python was a legendary serpent-monster slain by Apollo at what later became known as Delphi. There a tradition of fortune-telling arose - the famed, and all-female, Delphic oracles.
So to have a "spirit of python" probably means something like having the same kind of spirit as the Delphic oracles. That is, a spirit that predict the future.
Now, here's why I say we have to read carefully. Today, it's largely assumed that the oracles spoke in fevered tongues, but ancient authorities are pretty well in agreement that their prophecies were coherent, even well-spoken. Herodotus says they spoke in dactylic hexameter!
Likewise, modern readers often assume that those scripture mentions as having spirits were mentally ill. But there's utterly no evidence for that in this story. This girl speaks - preaches, really - coherently. Why must she be crazy?
Isn't it possible that the spirit she has is that of the Delphic oracles, who were after all unmarried, inviolable women who advised the greatest men in their society?

Maybe this kid's got something on the ball, is what I'm saying.
And Paul, bless his heart, just blows past her. Her spirit irritates him just a little too much, so he blows up her source of income. Admittedly, he pays a price for doing so, but he sure doesn't seem like he thinks too hard about it.
In fact, as John Byron points out in Biblical Archaeology Review (I am a nerd), we don't know at all what becomes of this girl - and that's not a good thing.
Masters in the ancient world could and did prostitute their servants. We have no way of knowing, but as Byron says, we have to consider the idea that losing her money-making powers of divination made her more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Which is a very gentle way of saying it's possible that Paul's casting out her spirit led this poor girl's owners to pimp her out.
Should we read this as one of Phyllis Tickle's "texts of terror," then? No, I don't think so. The story's not really about her as a woman; her character is really more of a plot device.
But there is a cautionary tale to be had in this story. Last week, I talked about the importance of listening, and that theme continues through this story every bit as much as Lydia's
There's a sharp contrast between the unlistening mob and magistrates, who are not prone to consider Paul and his companion's side of things, and the jailer, whose life is literally saved because he hears Paul calling to him from his cell.
Those who listen are converted, Luke assures us. But what about Paul and this slave girl? He doesn't spend any time at all listening to her. There's no learning from here, no attending to her presence, no connection, no engagement.
In fact, Paul says not one word to the slave girl, only to the spirit that possesses her. This story doesn't follow the conventions of an exorcism story, so we don't get to see the benefits it has for her, nor does it move anyone to conversion.
It's nothing more than Paul losing his cool. Did she want to be healed? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Even acknowledging that this girl's wages are taken by her owners, it's entirely possible that her gig as a fortune-teller was her shot at something like an independent, dignified life. And now it's gone.
Understanding that leads to two cautions. First, salvation is not cost-free. There are winners and losers. The jailer's salvation might be this girl's nightmare scenario.
Not because God wants it that way - there's certainly nothing to imply that in this passage - but because that's the way the world works. Our freedom comes at a cost to the masters, and they want to get paid, one way or another.
Comfortable white middle-class Christians ought to pause and consider that for a moment. Who had to suffer for you to get saved?
Particularly comfortable white middle-class Christian *men* need to stop and think about this.
The thoughtless things we do can have real consequences for other people. Even when our actions nominally work toward justice.
Human trafficking is bad.

Sexual exploitation is bad.

Exploiting the labor of others is bad.

But you didn't provide aftercare for a vulnerable person, Paul, leaving her perhaps worse off than when she started. And for what? Telling the truth in a way that irritated you?
If men - even well intentioned, justice-seeking men - don't listen to and for women, they're going to screw it up and cause harm, not conversion, not salvation.
That's it, that's all. The end. Thank you for listening.
P.S.: I've been referring to the slave "girl," but the word - paidiske - is a bit slippery in the Greek. Could mean a girl, or an unmarried woman.
It's also a term used to refer to female slaves - slaves are like children, get it? And, unfortunately, it's also a word used for prostitutes.
P.P.S.: One last thing, I promise. I got off-track above and didn't develop the prophetic aspect of this python-girl, but I think it's worth circling back to it in light of this insight from @TheRaDR:
You could certainly make the argument that this girl "speaks revelation into being" in this story. Not only does she proclaim the truth about Paul and his companions, it's her words that set the story into motion. Without her, the jailer doesn't see "the truth" of Christianity.
All the more reason for men to listen to women. Because God is pretty clear, whether in Hebrew scripture, Greek, or the experience of the world around us, that you never know who's going to speak revelation into being.
Okay, that's really it this time, now I want to go let my brain go soft. Amen, drop something in the plate on your way out, you don't have to go to Denny's, but you can't stay here.
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