IN THOSE DAYS, as the apostles 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. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us a way of salvation.” 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.
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. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city, they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 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 jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, the jailer 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 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. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer 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 in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of God 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.
Christ is risen!
Spirit possession was not viewed in the ancient days the same way it is viewed today. What comes to our mind when we hear that a person is possessed? Probably some movie scene where a person is twisted in some unnatural way and is crawling like a spider on walls or flies around, right? That's Hollywood's understanding of spirit possession. And since it is Hollywood, we can safely assume that it's fake.
In the ancient world, among the pagans, people who were possessed by a spirit were seen as having a gift or a blessing from a god. These spirits gave unnatural abilities to the people they possessed, like fortune-telling by a slave-girl in the Epistle reading above. (Are all fortune-tellers today simply frauds or possessed? You be the judge...).
Pagans believed that their gods were spirits, and as such they didn't have bodies. But, in order for people to interact with their gods, the spirits had to have a body. This is how idolatry worked - worshipping man-made objects, usually statues. Pagans built statues for their gods, and then the gods entered or possessed these statues, and so the people were able to communicate with them. Another way for a god to interact with people was possessing a person.
From a Jewish perspective (and consequently, Christian as well), such possession is always viewed as bad, or evil. From the Greek and Roman (meaning, pagan) perspective this was considered as a person being "touched by the gods." Ancient emperors and some of the great philosophers claimed to be possessed by spirits, which they used in defense of their power or wisdom.
We call these spirits or gods by their proper name - demons. We do not need God to possess anyone or anything in order to communicate with us. God does not give us unnatural abilities. He gives us talents and gifts, which we are meant to multiply and use for His glory. We are looking for God's grace, not His possession of us in this life.
In the Gospel accounts, whenever Christ comes across someone demon-possessed, the demons usually cry out, as if in pain, "Why do You torment us? What do You want from us? You, Son of the Most High God." It's as if they are compelled to reveal God when they are in His presence.
In the Epistle reaiding we see the same thing, the girl, who had a job of fortune-telling and making money for her owners, instead was following the apostles, crying who they were. One would think that a demon would try to conceal and lie about who these men are. But that's not the case. Demons, when they come in contact with God or His people, can't lie. Divinity, holiness brings them such pain that the only thing they can do is reveal Who is doing it to them.
Today's reflection is based on a Bible Study podcast - the Whole Counsel of God.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the risen Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest