By Michael Smith
Reading from Acts, 28:1-16
1 After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it. 3Paul 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. 4When 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.” 5He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6They 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.
7 Now in the neighborhood 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. 8It 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. 9After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.
11 Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. 12We put in at Syracuse and stayed there for three days; 13then we weighed anchor and came to Rhegium. After one day there a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.
16 When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
As the book of the Acts of the Apostles draws to a close, we find Paul shipwrecked on the island of Malta. On the way to Rome to face charges in the presence of the emperor, Paul and his party find themselves with time on their hands as they wait for spring to arrive and the dangerous winter season to pass, so that their journey to the capital of the empire can resume. What does one do with an unexpected three-month break? If you are Paul, you continue to do what you have done since you encountered the Lord on the Damascus Road: you preach Jesus as the “Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of God’s people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
During his hiatus, Paul establishes a healing ministry and begins by restoring the father of Publius, “the leading man of the island,” to health and wholeness. As word of Paul’s gift spreads, “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.” Although the natives of the island showed Paul and the other refugees “unusual kindness” from the beginning of their sojourn, they were eternally grateful by the end.
Paul’s behavior on Malta reminds me of the old saying, “Bloom where you’re planted.” There is not one of us who could have predicted where the autumn of the year 2020 would find us, but here we are anyway. If you are like me, you are tempted to look past the present moment to the time when we can once again resume our normal lives. I have confidence those days will come, but in the meantime, what is God calling us to do and be while confined in our homes and socially isolated? We may not be in Malta, but we can do something for the kingdom of God during this hiatus.
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith served as Bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, are the parents of three and grandparents of nine.
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