Lesson for Nov. 18
Scripture: Acts 28:1-10
Our text begins with the moment of rescue after a terrible storm of doubt, fear, and frustration. Imagine washing up onto a strange beach where people of a different culture greet you with unexpected and gracious kindness. The warmth of a fire would be a welcomed remedy from the cold and stormy waters.
We see Paul in his working best, gathering wood for the fire that had been started. This speaks to his commitment to contribute to the community and not be one who receives without working. From a spiritual perspective throughout Paul’s ministry, he has been building upon the fires started by the Holy Spirit throughout the region.
This passage tells of a snake that locked onto Paul’s hand while gathering wood. The locals who witness this attack see it as a sign of judgment against Paul. Not knowing Paul’s story or journey, they only know a group of prisoners has washed ashore after surviving a shipwreck.
He is a Murderer
In the same way the snake attacked and the boat ran aground on the reef, Paul and company’s survival questions the local’s understanding of justice. For them, the assumption and belief was that evil actions are followed by events of suffering and punishment. The fact that Paul and the other prisoners and their jailors all survive leaves the people of Malta questioning their faith.
It always troubling to hear a group of people in the threat of an impending hurricane or tornado to pray for the winds to change and go past them to some location further up or down the coast. Thereby asking God to spare them and cast judgment or suffering upon someone else instead. While is able, the theology of this petition does not match a God of purpose and grace.
In assumption of accusations the people identify Paul as a murderer. For the those who had shown great kindness is followed by an ignorant judgment. This is an example where random acts of kindness may or may not be reflective of a merciful God or faith. The assessment is that survival from the snake bite is a sign that that person is linked to evil of the snake.
There is an emphasis in the naturalist community to redefine poisonous snakes. To help people change their attitudes about snakes, they are referred to as venomous and non-venomous. On that cold night as the two cultures gathered around the fire, judgment was made that Paul was poisonous since the snake did him no harm. I too must be viper.
He is a God
People we do not know or have major differences with are often assumed to be evil, bad or untrustworthy. When Paul lives after the snake bite, the local folks continue to assume what they know about Paul. If the poison had no power over Paul, then he must be divine. Again the reality they experienced didn’t match their faith expectations and they are no closer to knowing Paul or God.
Paul takes the opportunity to heal the dying father of Chief Publius through prayer and the laying on of hands. Through this intentional witness of Christ to heal and restore, Paul begins to teach the power and witness of God.
It is a great temptation to believe that what we do is something we can take credit for, something that is loved, accepted or good. When something goes wrong or turns out badly, we are quick to share blame, determine fault or call shenanigans.
It is Paul’s prayer that defines his actions. He is not doing the healing. Paul makes his life, faith and trust available to Publius’ family and community and God works through Paul. Here is where we join Paul’s journey in a world of struggle. Sometimes we are lost and tossed and we pray to be saved. When we are on solid ground, warmed by the fire and surrounded by kindness, the threat to our faith and spirit is no less than in the raging sea.
The bottom line is that prayer holds us to the heart of God when we are both in the storm and in a place of safety. Paul’s witness is to see the opportunities to trust God in all times and places. When we do, we are blessed as well as those around us. The crew leaves the island with more than what they had before the storm. Here we see the circle of grace made real as Paul and company return to their journey.
Action Plan: As your class lists petitions of healing for members and friends, identify who will go and lay hands on those you name. In this way we take Christ not only in our mind, but in our hands and feet.
Hymn: He Touched Me # 367
Prayer: God of a loving kindness. Let me know your grace and give me strength to share it with all those I meet this week. Amen.