Yet, God had other plans. As soon as they set sail, they started encountering difficulties. The trip was taking longer than expected due to the bad weather. When they took shelter in Crete, Paul insisted they should not keep going. The centurion, and the owner and captain of the ship decided otherwise. This decision was almost fatal. The storm kept growing. For days on end the expert mariners could not control the ship. Those on board started losing hope. Luke tells us that at one point “we finally gave up all hope of being saved”.
In desperation, some tried to escape. Paul stopped this, assuring everybody that all were going to be saved. By now, thanks to a vision he had, he had become in tune with God’s plan in this story. Paul would, eventually, face Caesar, but first, they had to “run aground on some island.” This was, therefore, the real purpose of this whole adventure.
Paul’s coming to Malta was no human endeavor. It was purely God’s providence in action. There is no doubt that the people of Malta had always been a religious people. The thousands-of-years old temples scattered throughout our islands are ample testimony to this. This religiosity of our ancestors shines forth in today’s story. When Paul was bitten by a snake, the people immediately saw this as a divine punishment for some huge wrongdoing. “This man must be a murderer,” they said. One may manage to escape a storm, but there is no way one can run away from divine justice! Then, upon seeing that no ill befell him, they concluded he must be a god!
By now Paul must have understood how God was constructing this story. And Paul the evangelizer did what he knew best. The above-mentioned phenomenon, together with the healing of the island’s chief official, must have earned Paul the people’s trust. He shared with them that wonderful gift he had received on that fateful day on the road to Damascus. And the people listened to his message.
This is what real faith is all about. It is not merely something for me to keep. Rather, it is something to live and to share. The gift of faith our ancestors had received form Paul has been handed on to us through many generations. It is up to us, now, to live it and share it. This would be the best way to thank and honor this great Apostle for what he gave us.