Prison Diary: A Brief Play in Three Acts

[Text:  Acts 16]

Act I
Received order and prisoners.
Placed prisoners in stocks, inner prison.
Listened to prisoners’ songs.
Act II
Woke to an earthquake.
Saw open doors.
Prepared to die.
Heard  shout – prisoners all still there.
Called for lights.
Rushed in, trembling with fear.
Fell down before prisoners.
Brought them out of rubble.
Asked about salvation.
Listened to prisoners’ words about the Lord Jesus.
Believed them.
Washed prisoners’ wounds.
Got baptized with whole family.
Brought prisoners into house.
Set food before them.


My Commentary:
Rereading this familiar narrative in Acts 16, I was struck by how many specific actions Luke recorded on the jailer’s part.  He is truly the main actor in the story.  Once I had written his movements in a list, the three acts (!) of this drama in Acts suggested themselves to me, and thus was born this little poem-diary-play of a day in the life of a Philippian jailer.

The detailed knowledge that is obviously behind this narrative reminds me of other parts of Luke’s writings, like the nativity accounts that feature Mary, or the several retellings in Acts of Paul’s conversion.  Luke gives away his trade secrets in the Preface to his Gospel:  “having followed all things closely for some time past” and interacting with “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses,” he was now presenting the material he had gathered in an orderly fashion for his patron, Theophilus.  Much of the unique narrative in this Synoptic Gospel, as well as many of the events in Acts, have the detailed impress of the memories of eyewitnesses – and even, in the latter, of Luke’s own participation in the action.

In fact, in this very chapter in Acts, a significant pronoun shift occurs just prior to Paul’s encounter with this jailer.  In the space of only three verses (16:8-10), “they” becomes “we,” as Luke sets out for Macedonia with his friends Paul and Silas.  Luke was there to witness the exorcism that got them incarcerated in the first place – “we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination…” (“we,” again!).  He wasn’t imprisoned with his coworkers, but he would not have been far off; prisoners in the ancient world were often dependent on outside friends for food and money to bribe guards and pay for necessities.  When daylight broke on the toppled prison, Luke would have been close at hand, ready to examine the jailer’s story – as well as his nursing skills.


Paul’s Commentary:
“…you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  (Ephesians 2:12-13)

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Filed under Acts, Luke

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