And the natives showed us unusual kindness; for they kindled a fire and made us all welcome, because of the rain that was falling and because of the cold. (Acts 28:2)
Sea travel in the days of the New Testament was a perilous and often dangerous journey. It was especially hazardous during the winter months. In his defense before Festus, Procurator of Judea, Paul appealed his case to the judgment seat of Caesar. When it was decided to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to Rome, a ship of Adramyttium was made ready and began the long journey. It was a difficult voyage. Paul had insisted after arriving at Fair Havens of Crete to remain in port lest the voyage ended in disaster and much loss but the Roman centurion was convinced by the helmsman and owner of the ship to make the journey. At first, things went smoothly but then the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew the ship out to sea. Two hundred and seventy-six people were on the ship and for two weeks they endured a great tempest. Finally sighting land, they ran the ship aground with all souls being saved by the mercy of God. They found they had become stranded on the island of Malta, about 60 miles from the coast of Sicily. It was a small island about 20 miles in length from east to west, and 12 miles in width from north to south, and about 60 miles in circumference. The people of the island spoke a language foreign to the Greeks and Romans and were referred to as barbarians. The idea of a barbarian in modern thought is one of a savage, uncultivated, and cruel pagan but that is not the sense Luke leaves in his book. Luke will record a remarkable act of kindness from the natives of Malta. Imagine how surprised the Maltese were to see 276 wet and frightened foreigners standing on their shore including some worried Roman soldiers. What happened next shows the humanity of the least expected people to others.
Luke says the Maltese show unusual kindness. They immediately set to build fires to warm the soaked passengers of the doomed ship. It was still raining and cold and the natives took great care of these strangers. In the region, there was an estate of a leading citizen of the island, whose name was Publius who received Paul and others entertaining them for three days. When Paul healed the father of Publius, who suffered from a fever and dysentery, all those of the tiny island brought their sick to Paul to be healed. As a result, they were showered with honors, and when the time came to sail, people supplied them with everything they would need for the trip. While the shipwreck was a terrible loss for the shipowner losing all his provisions and the many souls endured a long and arduous journey before being rescued on Malta, it left an indelible mark on the hearts of Paul and his fellow passengers because of the kindness of the Maltese. The people of the island saw a need and met the need with a kind heart and a kind hand. It is not a big thing to build a fire but that is what was needed. There is little doubt along with the fire came hot drinks and warm blankets. The people of Malta did not know who these strangers were but they showed them unusual kindness because they themselves were kind people. They met the needs of the 276 souls with compassion providing for them to continue their journey. It is easy to see the passengers sailing away from Malta looking back on the tiny island with hearts filled with gratitude. Paul was probably saying a prayer of thanks for these kind people.
One of the hallmarks of the Christian is the simple and yet often overlooked character of kindness. The fruits of the Holy Spirit include kindness. Paul admonished the saints at Colosse to clothe themselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Peter includes brotherly kindness as one of the Christian graces that sets the child of God apart from the world. In a time when there are anger, hatred, callousness and a lack of manners, the people of God must let their lights shine in the world through the acts of kindness they show to others. It has been said that servers dread Sundays as customers who come to their restaurants are often rude and unkind and many of these people just came from church. The child of God should have a kind word for all, show acts of kindness to others, and leave an impression of a kind heart with others. Does it take too much effort to hold the door for others, say “Thank you” to the cashier, help young mothers struggling with preparing a meal for their children, letting others go ahead of you in line or not to talk too loudly about those people who take more twenty items in the ten items and less line? Neighbors need to know that Christians are kind people. When the Christian goes to work, they should be known as kind workers. Road rage is not being kind. Be kind to one another. Change the world one kindness at a time. The Maltese showed total strangers’ unusual kindness. Let it not be unusual for Christians to show kindness to others.