Acts 16:22-34; Ps 138:1-3,7,8; Jn 16:5-11
The greatest desire of those who pray the Psalms is fulfilled in the arrival of the Kingdom of God in the mission and miracles of the One who has been lifted up—in sacrifice and in glory–upon the cross and in the resurrection. With wholehearted praise in the presence of the angels the song of gratitude and adoration arises. This song of liberation and worship arises from an honest heart that cried out in weakness and has been built up in strength. The preachers Saint Paul and Silas filled their prison with songs of praise and in the weakness of their arrest the right hand of the Lord saved them. The grief striken disciples in today’s gospel are assured that the LORD will complete what he has done…He will not forsake the work of his hands. Both the Spirit-filled praise of the prisoners and the promise of the Spirit Paraclete reveals the saving power of the Lord in the midst of any grief that imprisons us.
Although Saint Paul and Silas had been stripped, flogged, and thrown into prison—under maximum security with their feet chained to a stake, they were not caught up in despair, and they were not imprisoned in grief. Rather, they filled the dark prison with the light of their prayer, singing, and joyous witness. The Right Hand of the LORD struck with power, while their fellow prisoners listened, a severe earthquake suddenly shook the place, rocking the prison to its foundations. However, they did not try to escape. This miracle was not the answer to their prayers. Instead they waited to see how the Lord would complete what he had done. The greatest miracle that night was not the prison gates opening wide. The greatest miracle that night was that the heart of their jailer was wide open. He and his whole family converted. They heard the Word of God; they were baptized; they joyfully celebrated newfound faith in God. Grief and despair gives way to joy and celebration among prisoners and the one who guarded the prison. Those imprisoned were free in faith to pray for the liberation of these who kept them in prison. Grief, by grace, becomes gratitude.
The Lord’s disciples in Saint John’s Gospel are still overcome with grief. They did not want to hear the sober truth that the departure of their Lord would mean more than his death. They wanted him to remain, yet the Lord Jesus tried to explain: it is much better for you that I go. If he failed to depart, the Spirit-Paraclete would not arrive. It was the weakness of their grieving that kept them imprisoned in their failure to see beyond the limits of this world. They did not understand that being lifted-up on the cross would also be a lifting up in glory. They were still imprisoned in the fear of death; they were not yet liberated in the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Lord Jesus explains again the power and person of the Paraclete. When he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin, about justice, and about condemnation. In the Spirit, believers would come to see the truth that sin is the rejection of the Lord Jesus; that true righteousness is a gift from on high and not from those around us; that the lifting up of the Lord Jesus is not condemnation but exultation. The world continued to imprison those who followed the Lord Jesus in the first reading, but the power and presence of the Holy Spirit sets them free. In our Eucharist today, we celebrate that same freedom, and we pray for all who try to imprison us.