The people who lived on Malta acted promptly to come to the aid of the 276 people who struggled out of the sea after the shipwreck. According to Luke, the writer of Acts, “the islanders showed us unusual kindness.”
As Paul was gathering brushwood for the fire, he disturbed a poisonous viper which bit him on the hand. But our text tells us that Paul “shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects,” to the great surprise of the islanders who had been watching.
The first reaction of the islanders, when they saw the snake bite Paul, was to think that Paul must be a murderer who had somehow undeservedly escaped from drowning in the storm; justice had now caught up with him. But when he failed to swell up and die, they concluded instead that he must be divine. Both conclusions were wrong, being based on the superstitious view that in this world, people get what they deserve: evildoers get punished, good people have good fortune.
Simple experience must tell us that such a view is deeply flawed; the Bible tells us clearly that if that were the case, none of us would deserve to live, because we all fall short of God’s standard of goodness. Our readings this week remind us about God’s merciful grace to humanity, despite the fact we don’t deserve it.