The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the gaoler to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened. When the gaoler woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." The gaoler called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household." They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
Before the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple. (R./)
I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul. (R./)
You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands. (R./)
"But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned."
We can sympathize with Paul's indignation at being wrongly thrown in prison, but may wonder if some more patience could have saved him a lot of trouble! Certainly he took the side of the unfortunate girl being exploited for profit by her boss, but as a result he and Silas were arrested, flogged and thrown in prison. Such a flogging of a Roman citizen was against the law, so Paul later demandd and received a public apology from the magistrates.
In gaol during the night, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, an earthquake broke down the prison gates. While they could have escaped, they remained where they were. The gaoler woke up, saw his prison gates open and drew a sword to kill himself, afraid of the consequences. Paul calmed him down and after a quick instruction about Jesus, baptized the gaoler and his entire household. Then the gaoler held a feast for the missionaries. What a roller-coaster of experiences.
Like Paul and Barnabas, the modern Christian often stands in need of spiritual help, from the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus. Crises like those met by Paul are not just a test of our personal character but can be the occasion to renew our trust in the love of the Holy Spirit. The love of Jesus surpasses our predictions and fears. He is no less able now than then to bring things to a happy outcome. Even out of the most threatening vortex, good can emerge and, as Julian of Norwich serenely believed, "All manner of things will be well!"
When the Advocate, the Holy Spirit comes, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was in the right and about judgement. Those who approved of Jesus being crucified thought he must have been a sinner to have died in the way he did - for this form of death showed that God had judged him. They believed they were right to put him to death, for leading Israelites astray from the law of Moses. Clearly we consider their assessments totally mistaken. Jesus was no sinner; he was not judged by God; his judges and executioners were not in the right. What an enormous disparity between God's perception and human perception. The one whom God looked upon as a beloved Son, others looked upon as a sinner. The one whom God sent was considered condemned by God. The Sanhedrin was completely in the wrong.
Human judgments can be very wide of the mark. We need to keep seeking God's perspective, to see others as God sees them, to judge as God judges. It is the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who gives us God's perspective. It is he who enables us to see as God sees, to know as God knows, to be wise as God is wise. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to keep filling the hearts of the faithful.