What are “Purple Places”? It’s a simple question. Purple is a fantastic color, loved by many and can symbolize many things: mystery, spirituality, creativity, dignity, royalty, suffering and is also a color of mourning. As we walk through our story today we see many “Purple Places”, which touch you the most?
Scripture: Acts 16:11-15
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Background on the Text:
- We are deep into the Paul section of Acts. The rest of the story of the beginnings of Christianity focuses on Paul and his companions as they bring the message of Christ to the world.
- The text alternates between a narrator who refers to Paul and the others as “they” and first person plural accounts referring to “we.”
- Immediately before this text is an account of all the places that Paul is traveling to. The impression is that this is a man on the move, but one still following the Spirit’s lead.
Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:
- The description of the journey at the beginning gives readers a view of the scope of Paul’s missions. He is moving all the way from Antioch, Syria, through the Turkish lands, and on to Macedonia which is north of Greece. This is a huge journey for that day, and approaching the center of power of the Roman Empire.
- Philippi was a city of Macedonia that was on the Aegean Sea, and it was an important trade port for the Empire. The population was very diverse, hailing from all over the Empire.
- “On the Sabbath” indicates that Paul was still living according to his Jewish customs, and he would continue this throughout his life.
- Paul and his companions go outside the city gate, by the river. This is symbolic for the kinds of people for whom Christianity would hold an appeal: those “outside” the bounds of authority, power, and custom.
- They suppose it is a place of prayer, and they find women praying there. Why these women were there is not explained, but we can guess that they were excluded from praying “inside” because they were women, or perhaps foreigners. They have formed their prayer group in the only way they can.
- Lydia is a fascinating character. She is one of the few women in the Bible with authority and power who is not linked to a man. Lydia is from Thyatira on the Turkish side of the Aegean, so she is a foreigner in Philippi. She is a trader in purple cloth, which is a luxury item. Purple is also the color associated with both royalty and suffering. So Lydia is a business woman on a business trip. But she is well known enough that she appears to be the leader of this worshipping community. Lydia is also the head of a household, so her decisions about religion will extend to her household.
- Paul and his friends join this group of women. This far west in the Roman Empire there would not be the same taboos about men and women associating in public. Paul is just looking for converts of any kind, and following the lead of the Spirit.
- Lydia is a worshipper of God: again this means she is a Gentile with interest in and leanings toward the Jewish faith.
- Paul tells the gospel story and Lydia is convinced to change her life. She and her household are baptized.
- Most importantly Lydia offers her patronage to Paul. The church in Philippi that grows out of this encounter will be a favorite of Paul’s. Although Lydia is not mentioned again as a leader, two other women are mentioned: Euodia and Syntyche. (Philippians 4:2-3)
Questions the Text Asks of Us:
- How far would we go to proclaim the gospel? Where are the places we don’t want to go?
- How do we proclaim the gospel without denying the validity other faith ideas?
- The good news appealed most to people who found themselves to be outsiders in one way or another to the dominant culture. Why do you think this was true?
- Why do you think the stories of the women who helped found the early Church movement were “lost” or ignored? What other people have we ignored in the telling of our history?