On the sabbath we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there.
On Saturday we heard that Saint Paul had a vision of a Macedonian urging him to come to "Come over to Macedonia and help us." This might not have seemed such a big deal to Saint Paul or the author Saint Luke; but from our perspective we remember this crossing as the Day the Gospel arrived in Europe! Some creative historians remind us that Troas was ancient Troy, and Paul's eventual destination was Rome. He followed in the seapath of Aeneas, as described by Virgil's Aeneid. Are the Apostles Peter and Paul, as founders of the Church of Rome, the new Romulus and Remus? The ancient Roman church may have thought so.
In any case, we find our heroes landing on a foreign shore and following the Spirit to the river and a place of prayer. As usual, the mission begins inauspiciously. Women were then -- as today -- a minority. If you want to make a difference or change the world, and you follow the customs of the world, you address the influential and powerful, not women in the laundromat.
Saint Paul tried that successful approach when he arrived in Athens, only to retreat in disgrace. The Spirit's ways, if they're at all predictable, begin quietly, without pomp, often down by the river where women do the laundry. As luck would have it one of the women was Lydia, a Greek woman, industrious, self-sufficient and devout, a worshipper of the Hebrew God though not a Jew. She challenged the missionaries to come and stay with her, rather than look for the Jewish men who might be better situated.
Sometimes you have to go with the flow. You may have your ideas about the way things should be and there are advisers at every step who tell what your next one should be, but there's a current to these events and your heart follows that inspired course. "...she prevailed on us."
I love what happened the next day, though the lectionary readings for tomorrow skip over it:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl with an oracular spirit, who used to bring a large profit to her owners through her fortune-telling. She began to follow Paul and us, shouting, “These people are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”
She did this for many days. Paul became annoyed, turned, and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Then it came out at that moment.
When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the public square before the local authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These people are Jews and are disturbing our city and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack on them, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
So much for the Gospel's spectacular opening to Europe! Sometimes failure is success and success is failure and only God knows which is which. Saint Theresa of Calcutta has reminded us, "I do not pray for success; I ask for faithfulness."