You may remember that the ship carrying Paul and some other prisoners on route to Rome encountered a terrifying storm. Fearful for their lives they jettisoned much of their cargo and the expendable lives of the prisoners were at risk. They were also short of food and water. But Paul, having been visited by an angel, convinces them that God will spare their lives, and to keep up their strength by eating. Shortly after they find themselves near land and eventually run aground on a reef near the island of Malta, where the text says that they came ashore and ‘the natives treated us with unusual kindness’. That kindness consisted of building them a fire and providing them with food. A snake then attaches itself to Paul’s hand and at first they think he must be a murderer whom God is punishing, but when instead he is unharmed they declare him a god, and bring their sick to him for healing. It is an amazing story, and pertinent to our times.
We find ourselves globally confronted with a disease that is very hard to control – human plans have been well and truly jettisoned by this new virus and there is terrible loss of life and livelihood around the world. In these circumstances we see two responses – division and kindness. On Paul’s ship there were three categories of people, soldiers, sailors and prisoners. Rapidly divisions arose and the most vulnerable, the prisoners, found themselves at risk. Yet when they came together from a place of faith and trust they came to a place of safety where their divisions could be set aside for a time as they received the most basic of human needs, warmth, food and shelter – the response of kindness. We too find that in some places there is division and a tendency to blame some groups for their actions, but at the local level there is also much kindness.
We are confronted with the need to re-think and re-interpret many things. Just as the Maltese people changed their mind about Paul – he’s not a murderer, maybe he’s a god – so we are being invited to change our minds in the light of experience. It may well be that as a result of COVID19 we will need to change our minds about many things in our church and our world – to travel less, to value the local more highly, to treat our planet with deeper respect, to name but a few – what will matter is that we make those changes of mindset from a place of kindness, seeking unity and the welfare of all, rather than from a place of fear that breeds division. So, this week in our individual lives and in our prayer for the world let’s ask for the gift of unusual kindness to sustain all that we do and say. Amen.
Penny Jones, for Sunday 24 May 2020.