Acts 12: 1-11
Prison walls cannot contain the liberating power of the Gospel. Some of the most profound spiritual writings have been composed in prison, including some of Saint Paul’s letters, the poems of St. John of the Cross. The prisons of Nazi Germany were seedbeds of profound reflections on faith by the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Jesuit Alfred Delp, and Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian peasant objector to Hitler’s Wars.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we find several accounts of the miraculous release from prison of the followers of Jesus.
One of the most famous is today’s Gospel where an angel frees Peter from his chains and leads him out between sleeping guards. In the Vatican there is a fresco by Rafael depicting this event. In the center we see the angel touching Peter, just as Luke tells us in the text.
But the artist took some artistic freedom in the upper right panel, depicting the angel leading Peter out of prison. The angel told Peter to put on his sandals and his cloak; but Peter is walking barefoot, as is the angel.
In the text Peter follows the angel out, but in the painting the angel is leading Peter by the hand.
When I looked at my photo of this fresco this morning, I was stuck by that simple gesture of the angel.
God is leading Peter by the hand out of prison. God, with the intimacy revealed in the touch of the angel, can lead us out of prison. Sometimes this may happen literally, as in the other accounts in the Acts of the Apostles and, perhaps, in the escape from prison by Saint John of the Cross.
But often God is offering a hand to lead us out of the prisons of our lives, out of the sins that keep us confined, out of the cowardice that keeps us paralyzed, out of the limitations that we place on the power of God’s grace in our lives.
God can free us from all that keeps us imprisoned, as he freed Peter.
But God frees us not for ourselves. Peter returns to the community to announce to them the Good News of his release. So too, we are freed to share the Good News of freedom to a world enslaved by greed, violence, power, domination.
Get ready for the jailbreak and grasp the angel’s hand, God is leading us.