By Ezra Connection
Acts 28:1-2 (New International Version)Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
Ashore on Malta
1Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.
Following the gorgeous Canadian Thanksgiving weekend we had in Ontario, the many centimeters of rain over the next week seemed to be a constant item in conversation.
Making my weekly trip on the rather luxurious commuter bus to Toronto, I took out my pocket New Testament and started to read Acts 28, noting the events following the shipwreck, when the apostle Paul had floated ashore. The dual thought in verse 2 struck me as very appropriate for the current week: “because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” However, as I mused, God led me to grasp that the rain and cold in Acts brought out an unusual response—-a response so radical that it could only have resulted from a perspective altogether different from mine.
Sometimes it’s good to read in other versions, and the King James brought out one great cultural divide of the first-century. Dr. Luke, the author, and a Gentile physician trained in Greek in Alexandria, Egypt, was probably sensitive to the “political incorrectness” of the times. He writes that on the island of Melita (or Malta), “the barbarous people [showed] us no little kindness.” Luke’s very terminology aptly describes the barbarians, the ones who should have no “Christian” or “religious” or even “Jewish” feelings—-“those people.”
In contrast, Luke tells how these foreigners showed kindness to “us.” He lumps together all 276 (or 76) who had swum ashore: the pilot and ship-owner; possibly a motley group of sailors (if they were anything like those who made stops in Corinth); Luke and other companions; Julius, the centurion who liked Paul, and the guard soldiers with all the other prisoners.
As the rescued shivered in the cold air, soaking wet, and probably shaking with their near escape, the “barbarians” hurried to meet their need. They dragged the beach for wet driftwood, and must have kindled a bonfire significant enough to dry off the huge crowd. Undoubtedly, the residents also sent out word that hot drinks were needed, with food; and dry spots for all these people to sleep. Publius, the chief, even lodged them for three days. Luke says, “They showed us no little kindness.” I sensed that though these barbarians had to endure the rain, too, and tolerate the miserable cold, they looked beyond the unpleasantness; they wanted to meet the needs of a mixed crowd that people in our culture might have shunned.
Now, if I got a sudden phone call that two busloads of foreign tourists had suddenly been stranded with flooded roads in my community, I certainly wouldn’t feel I had the means to invite them home. And it is very doubtful that even the whole church would rally to get them lunch within an hour. Why, then, did the Maltese express such a radical response? Might it be because they noticed how discomfort affected “other” people, rather than how it affected “them”?
Maybe barbarians, after all, can teach me something—-that God is fully able to show His kindness through “them”! How much more appropriate, then, for “me” to recognize God’s nudge, the next time the weather is miserable; for “me” to look beyond myself to someone who needs encouragement!
Philippians 2:4 (NIV)
4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."