Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Washing the Wounds

There are some Bible stories that we've read - and heard - so frequently that we miss some of the biggest things that are happening in them. That's because they are often preached from a certain angle, trying to make a certain point and once that point gets picked up, that's all we see in the story.

Take, for example, the story of Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16. They have been flogged to the extreme limits of the law and thrown into jail, where they are able to convert the jailer and his entire family to faith in Christ. That's how the story is preached, and we celebrate the conversion of the wicked jailer and talk about how, no matter where you find yourself, you may just be there for a reason. Paul and Silas, we're told, ended up in that prison so that that jailer could hear the message of Christ and come to faith.

What we read right past in the story, what we don't take even a second to think about, is the little blip that tells us that it was the jailer, hours into the whole thing, that first cleansed Paul and Silas's wounds. He was the first one to wash them after their flogging. Nobody else could be bothered, and they weren't even given a bowl of water to wash themselves.

This is important. (Obviously, for God would not have included it in the story if it were not.) And yet, this is something we don't hear preached from Acts 16. This is something we completely miss while we pursue what we think is the "bigger" story.

In God's story, there's no such thing. So we can't afford to read right past this.

What does it mean, though? What's the point?

The point is that those things in your life that you think are holding you captive may be the very things that are there to tenderly treat your wounds. To care for you in your most vulnerable state.

We think that our obstacles, that the things that hold us back, are things to be conquered. We think we have to triumph over them, and that's how we preach this story - we preach it so that the jailer becomes a brother, not an oppressor. Victory! But we miss that the jailer was already a brother. The jailer was put in that position for Paul and Silas just as much as Paul and Silas were put in that prison for the jailer.

Want to put it in contemporary terms? I can think of no better equivalency than the church. There's been a movement sweeping through Western Christianity that declares it has no need of the church, that one can be a Christian without belonging to an organized body of God's people. That the church is responsible for holding most of us back, for keeping us captive to liturgies and doctrines and dogma. The church puts us behind bars, and we ought to just disengage from it.

And then, if we're lucky, someone will preach about how we've been put here to serve the church. About how God has given us gifts and abilities in this place and time so that we can do good through His people. And we praise God that He's put us in this place at the right time to serve the right people. Yes, we are a blessing to the church. How sweet it is.

But did you know that the church was put here for you, too? That the church was intended to be a blessing for you? The church is the community that cares for you in your most vulnerable state, that takes the time to wash your wounds. This world? This world would just throw you bloody and beaten into the streets. It's the church that takes you in, runs you a bath, and tends your broken flesh. We're tempted to believe that the church is our brother when it comes to celebrate us and the things that we celebrate, but the truth is that the church, like the jailer, has always been a brother.

We just read right past it.

And it's true not just about the church, though that's the parallel that was on my heart as I read this. It's true about a lot of things in our lives. Sometimes, the very things we think are there to hold us back are actually there to tend our wounds, to help our broken flesh recover.

What do you have in your life right now that might just be a blessing in disguise? Where is your jailer?

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