The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Perhaps the most notable tenet of the Hippocratic Oath is “primum non nocere”- do no harm. Medical students to this day learn that, given an existing problem, it may be better to do nothing than to risk causing more harm than good.
In this dramatic first reading, St. Paul takes the principle a step further: “Do not harm yourself,” he shouts to the despairing jailer.
This exchange challenges us to reflect on how seriously we take the principle of no self-harm. Even if we are not contemplating suicide like the jailer, how often do we punish ourselves internally for mistakes we make in our relationships or work lives? I am so stupid- they should fire me. I am a bad friend- I don’t deserve her.
We should identify these internal put-downs as clear indications of the evil spirit who seeks to destroy our sense of self-worth. Thankfully today’s reading offers us an alternative way of proceeding: one grounded in faith and community: believe in the Lord Jesus. We are all here.
—Dan Dixon, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic from the Midwest Province currently working at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland to create the Welsh Academy, a grades 6-8 middle school for families of modest economic means.
Lord, help me to understand that you are enough, because you are everything I need and more. Remind me that when I feel hopeless, you have hope in me and for me. Remind me that when I don’t have the words to cry out to you, your son Jesus is praying for me, and your Spirit intercedes for me. Let this remind me that I am seen, heard and deeply loved.
When I feel like I don’t matter, remind me that I was created with purpose. When I don’t know or understand why I feel the way I feel – remind me that you know the depth of pain in my heart, in my body and in my being. You know me better than I know myself… and yet you still love me.
Creator who loved me into being, help me to love myself in this same complete way. Amen.
—Adapted from A Prayer for Fighting Suicidal Thoughts
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