Formations 05.12.2019: Jason and the Others

Stefano di Giovanni, The Blessed Ranieri Frees the Poor from a Florentine Jail, 1437–1444.

Acts 17:1-13

In this stage on Paul’s journey toward preaching in Rome, we encounter a verse that questions the arc of Luke’s two-volume history. The book of Acts sees the expulsion from Jerusalem as an opportunity to expand the good news. Paul’s imprisonments in this story bring good news to his captors. Luke would have us believe that nothing can stop the earliest disciples.

But here, amid the conflict in Thessalonica, Luke tells us, “they had taken bail from Jason and the others, [and] they let them go” (v. 9). This anecdote about Jason and the others paying bail brings our attention to in-between spaces that are more common, at least in my experience.

While Luke’s larger story makes liberation certain, this detail brings Luke’s readers to see that both freedom and imprisonment stand on the horizon. In fact, the momentary freedom of Jason and the others is predicated on his remaining in Thessalonica to be either convicted or acquitted.

The precarious footing of Jason and the others might help us to think about bondage and freedom in our own time and place. Statistics from the United States show that something like six out of every ten people in local jails are legally innocent. Their incarceration results, not from guilt, but from the inability to pay bail or the ten-percent that most bond companies require. Instead, the majority of people in local jails are there to await trial.

The implications are far reaching—from lost employment to lost family time and increased guilty pleas—and primarily affect groups historically hurt by disparities in the justice system, the poor and people of color. These experiences remind us that the freedom Jesus proclaims in Luke 4 has not been realized. And poor people and people of color, in a justice system filled with racial disparity, encounter the barriers to freedom and life most continuously. The burden of Jesus’ unrealized vision is not shouldered equally.

This week, we would do well to let the story of Jason and the others remind us where there is work to do. At the same time, the conviction that drives Luke’s story in Acts and our celebration might help us bend the in-between spaces toward freedom. Four weeks ago, we told stories about the ultimate powerlessness of Roman executions. Now, we are left to struggle with that hope.

Cassie Miller, “The Two-tiered Justices System: Money Bail in Historical Perspective,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 6 June 2017.

Discussion

• What are the barriers to freedom and life that shape our community?

• How do the crucifixion and resurrection affect our relationship to these barriers? What parts of the story do we need to hear?

• What actions do these stories lead us to? How might they bend our world toward the reality of resurrection?

Reference Shelf

Posting Bail

The politarchs, when they hear such charges, take a surety payment from Jason and the others before releasing them (v. 9). In contrast to the authorities in Philippi, these in Thessalonica follow prescribed procedure. The charge against Jason is that he has received and lodged seditious people in his house. The security payment makes Jason responsible for Paul and Silas. The bond will be forfeited and Jason hauled into court anew if any trouble recurs involving the two missionaries. Consequently, the disciples at Thessalonica immediately send Paul and Silas to Beroea during the night (v. 10; cf. 9:23-25; 9:30; 13:50-51; 14:20 for Paul’s rapid exits because of trouble he has generated).

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 149.

Mission in Acts

These two theological themes [divine providence and human participation] go together. There is no question but that God is “behind” the action in Acts. Visions and miracles are numerous, denoting the direct action of God to guide the church in its mission. The volume does not minimize the importance of this kind of divine acting. The story of Acts is “going somewhere,” and where it is going is in accordance with the “plan,” “will,” or “purpose of God.”

Yet exclusive focus on “God’s action” through vision and miracle can leave many modern Christian readers feeling a bit out of the loop. Most do not experience God like this. To be sure, some still do, but many do not, especially modern, Western Christians who are the implied readers—the envisioned audience—of this volume. The volume does not browbeat readers to pretend to have the worldview of first-century Jews and Christians. The fact is, much of the providential care of God manifests itself in Acts in the ebb and flow of human choices and action, including human beings who are not at all interested in discerning and acting on the will of God. God very much works in partnership with people, most especially God’s people, to accomplish God’s purposes, aims, and goals.

Readers will detect sympathy in the Commentary and Connections with ways of thinking and talking about God that highlight this relational partnership. As such, readers will find some exploration of ways of talking and thinking about God that one finds today in so-called “open theism” and “process theology.”

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 25–26.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.

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