Who is free in this reading? Certainly not the slave girl! She is not only in bondage to an evil spirit, but is controlled by evil persons who use her "gifts" for their own profit.
Perhaps it is the owners of the slave girl who are free...free to live a life of luxury because of the "great deal of money" they make from the slave girl's fortune telling gift.
There is no question that Paul and Silas are free. But are they really? Accused of "advocating customs unlawful for us Romans," Paul and Silas find themselves chained to the wall in a dark prison cell. This doesn't sound like freedom to me!
Perhaps it is the jailor who is free. The prisoners are chained to the cell wall. The jailor is free to play a game of solitaire, sleep, and walk around the jail compound. He is free...that is, until the earth shakes and the prison doors fly open and the prisoners are unchained. How will the jailor explain this to the authorities he reports to? He ends up thinking it would be better to commit suicide than to face the consequences of this event. This doesn't sound like freedom to me!
One question opens the door to freedom: "What must I do to be saved?" Only one answer brings freedom: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!"
Even though the slave girl was set free from her demon and her masters we do not know if she found freedom in Christ. Certainly the owners weren't asking, "What must we do to be saved?" Only the jailor came to know freedom...freedom from the authorities and freedom in Christ.
Being free for you and for me is only a question away!
God, sometimes I wonder if I can really be free from those things that seem to draw me away from you. Keep prodding me to ask the question so that I can hear your Word: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." Amen.
Acts 16:16-34 (NRSV)
16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.
17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation."
18 She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.
20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews
21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe."
22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.
24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
26 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.
27 When the jailer 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.
28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here."
29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
30 Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
31 They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.
34 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.