Long Goodbye

By Wright, Amanda | The Christian Century, May 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

Long Goodbye


Wright, Amanda, The Christian Century


Long goodbye Sunday, May 23 John 17:20-26; Acts 16: 16-34

HOW DO YOU say goodbye? It depends, I suppose, on the relationship--what it has grown to and what it will become. For Jesus, preparing to leave the close society of his disciples seems to have been a long process. Almost from the beginning he gently, or sometimes in exasperation, explained that the course his life was following would lead to profound changes in their lives. So he began saying goodbye early.

When families get together to say farewell to someone moving away, or to celebrate the last few days of someone's single life before marriage, they often rummage around and get out old photographs. These pictures stimulate an extended round of reminiscence--where holidays were spent, the worst car journey, Aunt So-and-So's funeral. Before an impending change, people tend to reflect on how they got to where they are. They are preparing to say "Goodbye."

Jesus' final conversations before his arrest are like family gatherings. One member is reminiscing about where family members are now and how they got there. Look how these memories fit in with what I have been saying to you, Jesus says. Remember that I was always with you, but that soon I will be with you in a different way. Say goodbye to the old way.

When a girl who can tell fortunes starts following St. Paul around as he goes to prayer in Philippi, shouting that these men are servants of God and have come to tell the citizens how to be saved, Paul loses his temper and tells the spirit that gave her this insight to come out. That meant no more fortune-telling, no more payments to her masters from people desperate to have some control over their futures, or at least to see them coming. They would have to say goodbye to all that.

Maybe Paul was annoyed that his well-argued intellectual persuasion and the witness of the disciples" own conduct were overshadowed by this girl's act. How can people change their lives anal make an important commitment on the basis of a parlor trick? Unthinkable. As a consequence, the slave girl has to say good-bye to her old way of life, to the extra favor that her fortune-telling brought her. She stops being "the slave girl who tells fortunes" and becomes nearer to being herself--not to the task she performs but the person that she is. We don't even know her name. Afterwards she fades from the story.

She may have had to say goodbye to being of some importance in society, but she also needed to welcome a new future. We don't know if she acted on her insight into Paul and Silas's mission and became a follower, but the jailer did. He threw all his eggs into one basket and brought his whole family into the family of the baptized. …

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