In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
Reflection We reach the end of a chapter that has driven Paul and the 275 others aboard to this wreck. The location comes to be named Saint Paul’s Bank at the entry to Saint Paul’s Bay on Malta. Two weeks of brutal storms have cost their ship. Survivors struggle through waves and surf. Those who can, swim. Maybe Paul swims (2 Corinthians 11:25 reveals him shipwrecked three times and drifting a day and night in the sea). Others cling to the shattered timbers. The Greek can be translated as meaning some were saved carried on the backs of others.
For many years now we’ve supported the Royal National Lifeboat Institution with its incredible teams of volunteers dedicated to saving lives at sea. I have often been moved to tears reading the lists posted at lifeboat stations of rescues attempted, lives saved, and lifeboat crews lost. The sea is beautiful and fun. The sea is ferocious and deadly.
No lifeboat comes in Luke’s story. Yet no lives are lost. Sheer luck? Or something more? Luke would have us see more. The whole chapter is centred around Paul as much as the storm. He is as much at risk as anyone, but trusts in God amidst the tumult. Even as the ship falls to pieces, it is the centurion’s growing respect for Paul that saves him and the other prisoners from execution at the hands of fearful soldiers. Perhaps it is Paul’s example and compassion through their voyage that has people helping others to be saved.
Storms come in many forms. We are caught up with others in their midst. Maybe, even today, God invites us to hold fast to trust in God’s goodness and guarding. And more. Maybe, even today, we can help another to find safety and rescue in the storm.
Prayer Save us, Lord of life. Protect us, Saviour in our suffering. Where storms are fierce and faith falters, when life is endless struggle; too much to bear, help us to know your closeness and your guarding. Help us hold out a hand to others, that they might find support and be encouraged, that they might come to safety too. Amen.
The Rev’d Neil Thorogood, Minister of Thornbury URC and Trinity-Henleaze URC (Bristol)