Saturday, June 3, 2017

Freedom is a state of being.

Acts 28: 16-20, 30-31

In today’s reading we see St. Paul in what I feel like was one of his natural habitats after his conversion: incarceration.  Today we see him in what we can still see today, under what might be called house arrest.  He was allowed to live by himself, but instead of an ankle monitor he has a guard.  Apparently, when he went out he had to wear chains so he couldn’t run.  Since I work in the field of incarceration this image is pretty vivid to me.  Seeing people chained, wrist and ankle, in person and not on TV is a bit surreal, at least to me, but it has allowed me as I read St. Paul’s account to bring to mind the images of him speaking in chains very vividly. 

By all rights, incarceration is one of the most powerless human conditions this world has to offer.  In fact, I can only think of perhaps two weaker conditions that being hospitalized (depending on why) and nursing home.  They are points in our life where our personal control and privacy tend to be given up to other people.  It would have been very similar back in St. Paul’s time as well, even though his Roman citizenship protected him from some of the cruelties a non-citizen would have endured.  The point is, incarceration is no place of worldly power. 

So, what strikes me in this passage is, in spite of his near constant state of incarceration, wearing chains and being bound by humans-St. Paul doesn’t lose his effectiveness as a witness or evangelizer.  This passage clearly states that even though he was under house arrest and under the threat of the death penalty he receives visitors.

30-31 reads:

He remained for two full years in his lodgings.
He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance
and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is powerful.  He isn’t in a position of power.  He isn’t on TV making millions.  He isn’t a government leader with the ears of the populous. He has no social media.  He isn’t even free or even a saint at this point.  He is in a rented dwelling, wearing chains when he is in public, and under the threat of the death penalty, a saint in training.  I think there is so much we can take away from this situation and apply to our own lives.

First and foremost, I see in St. Paul’s example that freedom isn’t a physical condition but a state of mind.  His physical being was incarcerated, but since his goal was to spread the Gospel of Jesus his state of mind was totally free.  The world could capture his body, but his mind and soul were free in Christ so he was not truly bound. His physical location was incidental.    This strikes me the most because we tend to think of our physical state as being predictive to what we can or cannot do.  In other words, we make excuses.  “I can’t reach people for God because I am only ______”  “I can’t witness because I am______”  “I don’t have the power to_______ because I am______”  We tend to think in limitations due to who, what, and where we are.  In Pauls’ example here, and if we truly look at the rest of the apostles, everything about them should tell us we are wrong if we think that.  Especially as we look at this passage, and see a man (not yet a saint) locked down by the world. 

The second thing I see is that St. Paul didn’t wait until his condition was perfect to be obedient to God’s call/will.  This is another of our collective hindrances to success and holiness.  “Well, as soon as I retire, I’m going to ________”   “When I change jobs I will be able to work for the church.”  Fill in the blank with your own “as soon as” statement.  St. Paul could have very easily said that as soon as he was free he was going to continue to minister.  The conditions he was under were not humanly thought of as ideal.  In fact, look over most saint’s lives both the biblical saints and the saints we read about, and you will see that VERY rarely are the circumstances of their lives ideal to the condition of doing the task they are commanded to do.  They all have something in common though, which brings me to my closing point.

We do not get more holy then become obedient.  We become obedient then get more holy.  We become obedient by doing what we can, where we are, with what we have.  St. Paul is a really good example of doing His will wherever you are no matter what condition you find yourself.  He wore literal chains, and you may too, or you may only wear chains that you placed on yourself in your mind.  Whatever chains you wear, remember, in obedience you are still free.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!