Rhoda and the Joy of Bumbling Through Work

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We don't know much about Rhoda. She's a maid in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. We don't know if she's a slave or paid employee. We don't know her age, but I always imagine her on the young side. And her gift? Perhaps it was something more than just the ability to dust furniture and fold sheets.

Rhoda is one of the central figures in one of the few light-hearted scenes in the entire New Testament.

King Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of the murderous Herod the Great, is persecuting the new Christians and has already executed James, the brother of John. He orders Peter arrested and thrown in a dungeon, bound by double chains. But the night before his execution, an angel frees Peter, and they tiptoe past two sets of guards as the prison's iron gates swing open.

Peter scampers from shadow to shadow, heading for Mary's house, where his friends are praying for him. He's expecting to hear a host of angry Roman guards on his tail at any second.

Peter knocks at the outer gate. Finally, the maid Rhoda appears.

"Rhoda," Peter whispers, "let me in! It's me, Peter!"

Rhoda is so startled that she leaves Peter standing outside, shivering in the cold. She runs to the den and shouts that Peter is standing outside the outer gate! He's free!

Apparently, no one believes her at first. Someone says, "Rhoda, you are out of your mind!"

"Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, 'Tell this to James and to the believers."

The author of Acts adds the droll footnote that Peter then leaves and spends the night elsewhere, apparently as far away from Rhoda as possible! Now that the danger is past, everyone—perhaps even Rhoda herself—enjoys a good laugh at the image of Peter furiously pounding away on the door while Rhoda abandons him to spread the good news inside. It's like a scene from an English farce, a madcap moment that has the audience laughing and holding their breath at the same time.

Ah, Rhoda. Loyal, excitable, perhaps even a little spacey. Regardless whether she was slave or free, it is possible to read an undercurrent of affection in this jewel-like story, the tale of a beloved maid who shares in the loves, fears, victories, and defeats of her mistress.

And so into these dark and dangerous times, enters the comic relief. Rhoda's irrepressible joy and enthusiasm—and occasional absent-mindedness—bring a ray of light to this tiny band of hard-pressed believers.

Are we reading too much into this short interlude? Apparently the author of Acts thought it important enough to include it amid the stirring tales of foundational days of Christianity. And Rhoda, who probably dropped her fair share of dishes, is a gentle reminder for us all to use our gifts and talents, whatever form they may take, anyway we can, joyfully and with praise and thanksgiving for the opportunity.

Because sharing good news with that kind of unself-conscious joyfulness allows others to forgive us when we bumble the details a bit ourselves.

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