I live in California, and 2020 has torched us with the worst wildfire season in our history. As I write this, it’s Halloween, and for some reason there are people in our neighborhood who still think it’s a great idea to set off a few celebratory fireworks — even though there are still 4,700 firefighters out battling 22 active blazes. Almost 9,000 fires have broken out this year — yes, in California alone. Most of the incidents were small and quickly contained. But overall, more than 4 million acres have burned, and of the six biggest California fires on record since 1932, five have been this year.
The Golden State? It’s a bit more like burnt orange now.
So forgive me, fellow Californians, and fire-sufferers everywhere, for the story of a nice warm fire. You remember those, right? That cozy fireplace you used to love? Maybe a bonfire on the beach with friends?
The apostle Paul knew nothing about marshmallows.
But bonfires? Ah, the warm memories.
. . .
As we’ve seen, the merchant vessel bearing Paul to Rome had been driven along for two weeks by a merciless storm until it broke to pieces on the island of Malta. The sailors probably knew the island, or at least knew of it; it was a common enough stopover on the way to other destinations. But it wasn’t until all the wet and bedraggled passengers and crew — all 276 of them! — made it safely ashore that they discovered where they were.
Though it was morning, it was cold. And it started to rain.
Imagine it: you’ve just been saved from death by drowning, death by shipwreck. But you’re also exhausted, physically and emotionally. You’re soaked and shivering. Are you grateful to be alive?
Maybe not as much as you could be.
But you would be grateful for the sight of a big, blazing bonfire.
Such was the kindness the island’s inhabitants showed the strangers who landed so unceremoniously on their shores: “they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it” (Acts 28:2, NRSV).
For a crowd that size, that must have been some fire. It would have needed continual stoking to keep the blaze alive while waiting for the morning sun to come out and add its warmth. Thus Paul, always one to serve, started gathering kindling. When he had enough, he threw his bundle on the roaring fire.
And was rewarded by snakebite.
. . .
The cold-blooded creature — Luke’s wording suggests a poisonous viper — stiff from the cold, had probably been gathered with the firewood. The heat of the flames quickly brought it to life. It took out its displeasure on the apostle, sinking its fangs into Paul’s hand and dangling there.
Well, it’s been just a perfect morning, Paul might have thought. We’ll see what everyone else thought in the next post.