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. (Acts 16:14, from the first reading on May 5)
God leads us to the unexpected. And what is unexpected is Lydia. Maybe it’s a nickname, since she’s from the region of Lydia, but it is how she will be always remembered. She would have been an outsider among the Roman elites living in Philippi – yet serving that elite clientele as a dealer in purple cloth. Such cloth from Thyatira was very expensive – and at times restricted by law as to who could wear it.
Paul was looking for a synagogue but found a place of prayer. Does this mean there were not 10 men to make an official synagogue? Or did Paul never make it to the synagogue? Did Paul assume, when he found these women, that this is where the Spirit led him? Perhaps he only stopped to ask for directions and suddenly their polite conversation leads to a deep discussion of Jesus and then it is revealed that in this unexpected place the Spirit was at work, for God opened her heart to Paul’s message.
It is a tricky thing following the Spirit. It requires that we be always open. But it bears fruit: Lydia becomes the patron of the church in Philippi.
And clearly God felt no compunction because she was a woman.
Always the unexpected.