Scripture

Acts 27:27-28:10

27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic[a] Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet[b] deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet[c] deep.29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

Paul Ashore on Malta

28 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.

There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.

Reflection

After Paul instructs the ship’s crew to direct themselves toward land where the ship will run ashore, the entire crew and passengers have to swim or float to safety on the island of Malta. And everyone survives, just as Paul had predicted. In verse 2 we see the reaction these foreigners received from the natives on the island, “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” Imagine almost 300 people, strangers from a foreign land, who did not speak your language, arriving on your beaches, washed up, tired, hungry, cold and with only the clothes on their backs. What would you think? How would you react? The native people could have reacted with fear, disdain, anger, or aggression, but they instead showed “unusual kindness.” What was so unusual about this kindness?

In the ancient world, we would not expect natives to show kindness toward unexpected guests. Typically, outsiders would be treated with suspicion and hostility. Further, the Greek word translated here as “islanders” is “barbaroi” from which we get our English word “barbarians”. This would have been a reference to non-Greek and non-Latin speaking people and carried the connotation of ignorant, uncivilized, uncultured, and hostile people. So it is as if Luke was saying they showed barbaric kindness. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it?

These Maltese Islanders saw strangers who looked different, acted strangely, spoke nothing like them, and who had nothing to give to them. They probably had many fearful thoughts. “Who are these people and are they here to stay? Could they threaten our Islander way of life? This is a small place after all. Is there room for all of us here? They don’t speak our language, so how will we communicate with them? What if they are here to take over our Island?” I feel certain there were some real concerns and fears, but they had compassion on them anyway. They didn't just invite them in, they offered them a fire and welcomed them as if they were neighbors, eventually letting them move in for the next several months. When fear could have ruled their hearts, compassion won the day, even for these “barbarians.”

That is often the competition in our hearts, isn't it? Fear versus compassion. Anxiety versus trust. Aggression versus acceptance. These Islanders let compassion, trust and acceptance win. How about you? 

Prayer

Dear Lord, Open my eyes and ears to your work around me. Let me see the big and small ways you are answering prayers. Guide to be a light in the darkness, proclaiming your beautiful and magnificent ways. Make me an instrument of grace and peace in the world. In Jesus' name, Amen.