After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it. Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They bestowed many honours on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.
“It was a dark and stormy night” – at least, it had been. We had a detailed account of how the shipwreck happened in the previous chapter, and here is the happy ending: a safe haven with a kind and friendly community. I wondered whether it was an unusual occurrence to have people washed ashore in Malta – or whether the islanders were used to it? At least they seemed to have procedures in place to help – food and warmth and a welcome to strangers washed up by the sea.
It seems that people haven’t changed much in 2000 years, we want to help those in distress – we are sometimes sceptical and superstitious, we make up our minds too quickly, without taking time to get to know the true picture, as shown when Paul was bitten by the snake. The difference here and now though, is that today’s “shipwrecked people,” those left to flounder by circumstances beyond their control, are unable to do a quick miracle to allay people’s fears. Today many are turned away by those who distrust and malign “the stranger”, those who are afraid of “difference”. Too quickly people make up their minds to turn away. We can still witness miracles though – miracles of love, where hearts and minds are opened – and those turned away find safe havens in loving communities.
Loving God We pray for those in our world who are shipwrecked by circumstance, We pray that they might find safety, That they might find kindness And we pray for daily miracles of love That hearts and minds might be changed, So that many more might find safe haven., Amen
Ann Honey is a Church Related Community Workerat Robert Stewart Memorial Church at Fenham in the Northern Synod.