Acts 18 records:
“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.7 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
On Malta superstition and God’s witness are in contrast. The Maltese seem to appreciate the plight of the castaways, and Paul and his companions are shown great kindness. This is very understandable of an island people whose livelihood was derived from the sea, and who knew too well its hazards.
The event which seems to momentarily sour this kindness is Paul’s snakebite. Their superstition immediately goes into play – “The man must be a criminal.” They seem to see Paul as fated for destruction (shipwreck and snakebite), the just rewards of a “murderer.” Are we any better in our modern world? Do we not hear people say that individual misfortunes are, if not deserved, at least brought about by some failing in the victim? “They are lazy,” “Their lifestyle is bad,” They take too many unsafe risks.”
Yet, Paul’s misfortune is not because of unrighteousness. In fact it plays out as a blessing for Publius’ family. The Maltese see the reversal of their assumptions about Paul, as the snake has no effect on him. Here again, their superstition jumps in. It isn’t enough to merely assume he is an innocent man, or even a righteous man. No, he must be a god. Paul while not (at least in the text) refuting this, goes on to heal Publius’ father. But clearly not as a god, but as a servant of God. Paul prays! He asks God to do the healing, the miracle is God’s not Paul’s. There is a lot to learn in that humility.
What lessons do we have then? Let us avoid being judgmental of others’ misfortune, and let us humbly give assistance to those suffering as servants of God. Let the glory be His.