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Day 46: Demon Possession Verses Empathetic Love

Day 46: Demon Possession Verses Empathetic Love


Adapted Acts 16.16-19 (NRSV)

16 One day, as we 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. 17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18 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.

19 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.

Warning: This is a bit more serious than usual. We have to ask, “What is happening here?” Listen to Willimon’s explanation: “this girl could tell peoples’ fortunes she made money for her owners, who hired her out to read palms and provide entertainment at business conventions. She was possessed by a demon; mentally unbalanced, we would say. She took to following Paul and Silas around, shouting at them, saying things about them. Here is a picture of enslavement—the grip of mental illness, schizophrenia, some ‘demon’ which holds the victim in bondage.” [1]

This passage merits a deeper exegesis than one page; however, I think it deserves attention. (Perhaps it will inspire us to learn more.) Our society has often devalued people who are “mentally unstable.” But the truth is neurologists are just now discovering some of what happens in the brain and how every brain is wired a little differently. So the responses people have to stimuli have a wide range of possibilities. Rohr describes the cure for “demonic possession” (as it is used in Scripture) as “re-possession by the Infinite Love who alone can meet our deepest desires.”[2] Rohr promotes meeting the “’demon-possessed’ person with empathy and love (albeit sometimes ‘tough love’).”[3]

The woman possessed in this story is a slave to the men who use her. Paul sets her free. Paul has destroyed their ability to profit off her “demon possession.” Human trafficking is a present-day form of “demon-possession.” It uses drugs and fear to enslave its victims. The money it brings in is staggering. The fact that there is a market for it is astonishing. What would happen to Paul or us in 2017 if we freed all of the victims of human trafficking?

Dear Lord, How can we restore each other with empathy and love—that will sometimes be a tough love—rather than destroying each other with blame, shame, and punishment. Amen.

[1] Willimon, William H. (2010-07-15). Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 138). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Rohr, Richard, A Spring Within Us, 2016, p. 200.

[3] Ibid.

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