A damsel named Rhoda.
Oh, the lessons she could teach us, if she were to join us at our wished-for coffee shop gathering!
Rhoda was a slave; the word in the Bible has been translated "damsel" and "servant-girl" in the different translations. Her name is a Gentile name, so most folks think she was not a Jewess. Her mistress was Mary, John Mark's mother and Barnabas' sister. She seems to have been a fairly wealthy lady in Jerusalem, for she had a home large enough for many in the church to have assembled there.
Slaves were often brought from other countries, many miles away, and separated from their families, too. The relationships of slaves and their masters were often filled with suspicion, distrust, and downright fear -- every master or mistress knew that many of these slaves would like nothing better than to take vengeance on them for being torn from their homes and family.
So now, we see the slave, a young girl, kneeling with her mistress in this prayer-meeting. Rhoda has been touched by the very same love as the others. She and Mary no longer think of the distrustful relationship they had before. Rhoda has received the same redemption as all of the others, whether free or slave.
The gospel of Christ didn't wage war directly with slavery, but it laid down principles that, once they are in our consciousness, make slavery impossible. Both master and slave were now servants of the Most High.
So, Rhoda has two things to tell us here: first, to remind us that God is not partial, nor does He play favorites. We all are worthy of His time, His love, and His sacrifice. And secondly, that harsh confrontations and conflict are rarely ever as effective as the quiet work of the gospel in changing our world. How many times have people been "turned off" by loud, harsh voices -- their aim is only the best, but their methods overshadow their intentions and make it difficult for people to respond.
Next, we watch Rhoda as she is kneeling there in prayer with the rest.
There's an impassioned knocking at the door.
Someone is banging on it!
Oh, the noise, and here they are trying to focus on praying for their leader and brother in the prison!
Rhoda came out from the prayer-meeting to open the gate . . . it was her duty in the household to "answer the door." So she stopped praying and went to the gate. Do we forget sometimes, that the smallest and most common duties are still important in His sight? All of the others were praying on one side of the door, while he was standing in the street on the other side -- and we can be sure that Herod's men would be searching everywhere for Peter! He needed to get into the house, into shelter. We can see that the group still praying, and the young girl who left to perform her duty, are all working in the same direction. If we perform our small tasks willingly, and happily, they are just as true a worship of our Lord as what we perceive as the big tasks. He doesn't look at things the way we do, and He has said, "I will not forget any of their works." It's not the size of the task; it's the motive and the attitude of our hearts toward our Lord.
Rhoda tells us too, that it's possible to forget our duties under the influence of very real excitement! We see that she didn't open the door, but "lost her head" as my grandma used to say. She was so excited about hearing Peter's voice, that instead of opening the gate, she ran back in to tell everyone! Imagine the rush of joyous emotions that filled Rhoda -- might we have done the same? Oh, but what if Herod's men had come down the street just as she turned to run and tell the others! Her first duty was to open the door . . . joy and sorrow can both cloud our judgement, and make us forget our duties. We must stay close in our relationship with God, and pray for that fruit of the Spirit -- self-control. Then when sorrow darkens our path, or joy lights it up with dazzling happiness, we can still be Spirit-filled, and remember our duties to our Lord.
Before you think I'm being too hard on little Rhoda, let me say also that I'm inspired by her spunkiness. Spunk? Grandma used to tell me that was a positive thing. A determination to stand up for oneself, to trust one's own experience, even if others thought you were nuts. (Grin) And that is what happened to Rhoda.
What a discussion in the prayer-meeting room! They'd been praying for Peter to be delivered, and now this young girl said he was free. But they don't believe it! Sometimes when we pray are there tiny slivers of disbelief in an immediate answer mingled in with the prayers? (We'll talk more about that tomorrow.) They'd been praying so intensely, and so earnestly, and now their prayers were answered . . . but they told Rhoda "you're mad!" and then said, "It's his angel, it's not him."
Are you shaking your head like me, and wondering why they are standing there arguing? Why tell Rhoda that she is crazy? Why not go and open the door and peer out into the darkness? (Grin)
But Rhoda is spunky -- the Bible says she "constantly affirmed that it was so." In the thesaurus, we can see synonyms for constantly: unchanging, and persistent. Awesome! Rhoda didn't change her mind. She wasn't convinced that she was wrong. She KNEW she had heard Peter's voice on the other side of the gate.
Oh, if we were all like Rhoda! If we trust our own experience, no matter what other people say. If we've found that Jesus helps us and loves us, and that our sins have been forgiven because we trusted in Him, then don't let anyone laugh at us. Don't let them talk us out of our firm conviction about our Lord. We don't have to argue, but we can be like Rhoda, and "constantly affirm that it is so." And if we can say to that unbeliever, "Have you been to the door, to see?" and they say "No," then we can tell them to "go and look, as I did." And they may come back with the same belief that we have.
We'll conclude our story of Rhoda tomorrow!