Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Women of Philippi

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 -- Week of Proper 12, Year One
William Reed Huntington, Priest, 1909
To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, 976)
Psalms 72 (morning)      119:73-96 (evening)
2 Samuel 3:22-39
Acts 16:16-24
Mark 6:47-56

Yesterday's and today's stories from the Acts of the Apostles give us an interesting contrast.  They are stories of two women -- Lydia and the unnamed slave-girl.

We are given two piece of information about Lydia.  She is "a worshiper of God" who shows up at the place of prayer in Philippi, outside the gate by the river.  This is probably the Sabbath gathering place for the Jewish residents of the city.  The description of her as "a worshiper of God" could mean that Lydia is Jewish.  More likely, she is among the "Godfearers," Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism for its monotheism and high ethic, but who were not Jews themselves.  Paul recruited most of his congregation from among the Godfearers.

The other thing we know about Lydia is that she is "from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth."  Purple cloth is expensive cloth, also called royal purple.  Thyatira is a city in the region in Turkey where this exclusive textile was produced.  So Lydia is an international businesswoman.  She has a home in Philippi, a city in Greece which is on the main Roman highway connecting the east and west empires. 

Lydia is a strong, wealthy and independent woman, overseeing her household and her business.  She meets Paul and opens her heart  and home to his words.  She and her household are baptized.  She then welcomes Paul and his companions into her home.  Her home becomes the first Christian church in Europe.  We read about Lydia in yesterday's lections.

Today we meet a slave-girl who also lives in Philippi.  She has a spirit of divination.  She is probably a priestess or prophetess of the Python spirit, linked to the famous serpent oracle of Delphi.  The account says that this slave-priestess "brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling."  (Ironically, Lydia's hometown Thyatira was also a center for the Delphic cult of Python.) 

Like Lydia, this slave-girl is drawn toward Paul and his companions.  "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation."  Annoyed by the oracle's repeated attentions, Paul orders her spirit of divination to come out of her. 

"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."  Isn't that familiar?  It's all about money.  It's all about power.  The men play on anti-Jewish sentiment to incite a crowd.  It turns into a legal lynching.  Paul and Silas are severely flogged with rods and imprisoned in jail with their feet in stocks.  (Today a prison cell like where they were held is preserved for tourists in the ruins of ancient Philippi.)

Two women.  One an independent business woman.  The other a slave-girl with a gift of divination.  Lydia becomes the host for the new community of Jesus.  I wonder what happened to the slave-girl.  Her economic value to her owners would have been ruined.  Paul had freed her from the spirit of divination that they used for their profit.  Maybe she then became more centered and clear-eyed.  But, in all likelihood, she was still a slave. 

We are left to wonder about her.  Was she welcomed into the Philippi church congregation?  Although the early Christians did not publicly challenge slavery as an institution, Paul's churches did do something remarkable and counter-cultural.  In his congregations, slaves were given equal standing with free persons.  They may still be slaves in their homes, but in the Christian congregation they were equal members of the body of Christ.  Paul wrote in Galatians, "for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."  (3:26f)

It is easy for me to imagine Lydia the wealthy, independent and powerful international business woman and this unnamed slave-girl embracing as equal sisters in the congregation meeting in Lydia's home.  It is also possible to imagine this slave-girl ruined, still in bondage, but now of little value to her owners, demoted and relegated to a lower place of servitude.  Maybe both scenarios could be true.

My sense of the spirit of Paul's congregations tells me that if this slave-girl became part of the Philippi church in Lydia's home, her fellow Christians would have helped support her in her lesser, non-priestess status.  Paul wrote sharply to the Corinthian church when they violated his spirit of egalitarianism.  Maybe Lydia's wealth also became a source of help for the slave-girl, not unlike a parish's discretionary fund can be a source of support for people in need. 

I like happy endings.  I can imagine this tale of two women ending well.  I also know, the anonymous slave-girl might be just another of history's discards, unintended collateral damage in the spiritual war between the Church and the Greek Temple.  If I feel a yearning for Paul and the Philippi church to reach out to her to help her, I also need to recognize our contemporary responsibility for the collateral damage created in our various wars of church and state.  We also have a responsibility to help.



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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
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Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:38 PM, Anonymous janet said...

Finding I desire to comment once again... I too noticed the slave girl in the reading this morning - it felt as if Paul was annoyed by her so he used his gift from God to get her to stop bothering him. His intent seems not so much to help her, as to ease his annoyance, and it seems less than noble, at least from the way it is portrayed.

What I've found, from a personal search, is akin to something Merton said (a quote that lead me to Merton and many, many of his books) “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” – Thomas Merton

I hope the slave-girl was able to have a relationship with God that was not so much forced upon her and used by others, but freer in the sense that she could choose to come to God.

And it seems to me that the poor, the slaves, the oppressed desire God to know them, to hear their prayers and to see their struggles, because the world can so easily be very dismissive of them. (as Paul perhaps was in this case)

I like your thought about responsibility. I hear people say what can we do? When you choose to look closely, to look deeply, there is so, so much that we can be doing. We need to be able to see the slave-girl and not brush her meaning filled life so lightly aside.


At 8:42 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Wonderful commentary, Janet. (I love the Merton quote.)

Here's something with similar musings that Ann Fontaine posted at Episcopal Cafe yesterday (she was quoting from another blog called "leave it lay where Jesus flang it" --

Another "take" on the slave girl.

hearing a young black woman preach on it. She took the persona of the young slave girl, and in essence she said,

"even though I spoke the truth about them, and told the crowds, full of doubt, the truth about them
--that they were slaves of the Most High God slaves no better, no worse than I,
bridled by the same spirit, possessed by the same spirit, I knew it when I first saw them, I loved them for it, wanted to be one of them,
I followed them--just as they had called us to do, and I spoke the truth to the crowd.
...even so, they took my voice, my God-given voice away from me, and then said the spirit which moved me to speak the truth was bad, was a demon. That I was possessed.

And all I said, was that they were slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation. I think it was just because they didn't own me...
--couldn't control the truth... as if one could own the truth.
--and then my master, who sold my voice for profit, kicked me out, what good was I now?
because my voice which spoke truth, always, was stolen from me by a big, proud, free man trying to make a point.
He was afraid of me. That I, a slave girl, could speak the truth, annoy him with the truth.
And while I still hear my voice in my head,
try as I might I cannot speak it.
He did that to me. Because he did not own me. Because I spoke the truth.
But I know. And even though I have been silenced, I am free, because I have seen.
I am free, and a slave to the Most High God."


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