Picture for a moment how many doors we walk through everyday. The bedroom, the bathroom, the front door, the back door, the car, the garage, and bus doors. There are the school doors, the office doors, the church doors as well as the elevator, revolving, and automatic doors. Our lives seem filled with going in and out of doors.
In our scripture passage, we find an underlying theme of opening doors. Luke speaks of opening prison doors, a radical idea in a world which is now obsessed in building more prisons. Before we can grasp what is meant by opening doors, we need to understand the full impact and devastation of what it means to live with closed doors. Let me share with you that as human beings there is a great tendency, if not temptation, once the door is opened for us for you and me to turn around and close the door on others and in turn hinder other people from the same opportunities which were opened for us. This makes us feel safe, right? History, unfortunately, is full of examples of doors closing. In fact, the caption from a Peanuts comic strip says it well when Snoopy tells Charlie Brown, "I love humanity--it is people I cannot stand!"
As an immigrant himself, Paul finds himself taking risks and, in turn, also finding his voice. After standing by an unnamed slave woman and letting the woman speak her own mind for the first time and not mimic or puppet the words that had brought profit and wealth to her bosses, Paul is thrown into prison and finds himself behind closed doors. This is possible because the authorities are able to blame their problems on the victims of society rather than face the reality of the situation, a term we know as "scapegoating."
While behind closed doors, Paul and Silas under sub-human circumstances choose to commune and to suffer with the other prisoners. About midnight they were praying and singing hymns. Calling on the presence of God is the way they knew to stay sane. Then suddenly without any warning there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains in the prison were unfastened. One would think that the initial reaction would be one of getting out of there as soon as possible--a good instinct to have no doubt if one has not already lost hope in one's life. But what Paul and Silas come to show us through their actions and compassion for another, not their own self-interests, is that though there is the appearance of an open door, because of the law, in reality, the door is really not open. We see this clearly through the actions of the Philippian jailer, a human being as you and I are, who we discover is working to feed himself and his family. According to Roman law, the Philippian jailer was responsible for Paul, Silas, and the rest of the prisoners. So when the Philippian jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he knew at that moment his life and work were at stake.
As an outsider and immigrant, Paul knew the law. Paul clearly understand that if the open door for him meant the closed door for another fellow worker, that of the Philippian jailer, the door was really closed to both of them. An incredible and compassionate insight on Paul's part that boggles my mind and at the same time breaks open my hardened heart. A compassion that moves beyond individualistic wants and comforts--even possibilities of individual freedom--for compassion is a suffering with and the fact that Paul makes this connection with another human being is significant. No, it is life-changing. For what we believe in our faith and how we choose to act in faith must be one and the same. Perhaps out of duty and self-respect, yet painstakingly not seeing any other way out, the jailer draws his sword and is about to kill himself when we hear Paul cry out, as we long to hear our own voices cry out, "Do not harm yourself for we are all here." Alone, death seemed inevitable. Together, in looking out for each other, new life is possible.
As people of faith, I believe we are constantly called to open doors for someone else in a world that is used to closing doors. From Paul's example, we are to see that we cannot be free or make full use of freedom if we know our neighbors and our international brothers and sisters around the world are in fear of losing their lives and thus not free. All too often we have seen freedom used under the auspices of profit leading to the oppression and exploitation of other women, men, and children and their countries in the name of national security and self-interest.
My experience on the Yakima Tribal Nation Reservation gave me a glimpse of this. My husband and I worked on a farm in this community where we worked with young people and church communities to maintain homes so that people in the community could remain self-sufficient and independent. We did not exactly enjoy waking up to the rooster at 5:00 a.m. in the morning or feeding the farm goat whose name just happened to be "Buck." But Washington apples we did enjoy. What we came to discover, though, was that the farm worker received pennies per pound for the apples. This, in turn, was to be used to pay for the laborers, often immigrants and migrant workers, who worked long hours of the day and night in the hot, scorching sun. If the apples were found bruised or less than perfect by the packing companies, the farm worker received one-tenth of what was given for the apples as the apples were used for apple juice.
As a consumer of Washington apples, I had often looked for the least expensive prices. What I came to realize from a broader perspective was that cheaper prices for the consumer often led to cheap wages for the worker and their families under the current economic system. Being aware of this and educating myself and other people of alternatives such as supporting farmers by buying from organic farms or cooperatives and seeking ways to implement livable wages for the workers are important steps in our opening and keeping a spirit of open doors.
Paul stood for what he believed, and because of the system he was thrown into prison. But take note. Paul's freedom would not come at the expense of another human being's life. Opening doors for someone else means seeing the beauty, sacredness, and worth of another human being's life as we see the beauty, sacredness, and worth of our own life, a mutual love of self and neighbor.
Paul stood for what he believed, was thrown into prison, and saw his liberation interwoven with that of a fellow worker. Paul and the prisoners having been beaten, attacked, and inflicted with many blows, mentally and physically, by the magistrate in power also did not simply walk out of the prison quietly as they were asked to. Rather Paul refused to let the people in power forget what they had done. He called for a public apology making them accountable for their unjust actions and in doing so, he walked out of the prison in the spirit of open doors.