Malta – Considering Hospitality
After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it (Acts 28:1-2).
I had taken a group from our church on what was presciently called “The Fourth Missionary Journey of Paul.” The idea was to trace Paul’s travels by ship as closely as we could across the Mediterranean in the direction of Rome. Instead of leaving from Caesarea like Paul did, though, we left from Athens. We would travel south, stop at Malta*, Sicily, Naples, Rome and then return to Athens. It didn’t occur to us we’d be following Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey almost literally, which was a disaster and involved a shipwreck. This item was not officially listed in our itinerary, but it should have been. Thankfully, we didn’t literally have a shipwreck. But at one point during our second night on ship, I was fairly ambivalent about death. By about three in the morning, I was so sick that dying would have been an improvement. The up and down movement of our ship (smaller apparently than it should have been for traveling that time of year in the Mediterranean) created the continual feeling of cresting the hill of a roller coaster, knowing during the fall that my stomach would end up somewhere in the vicinity of my throat, falling, and then starting over again. This happened repeatedly throughout the night and well through the following day and evening.
And I had been so looking forward to the good food of our cruise ship. But even climbing the stairs, even getting out of my cabin, caused more nausea and discomfort than I was willing to endure. The thought of food was not relevant, we discovered later, since the kitchen was in shambles—as was the infirmary. You get the picture. So I found, at the beginning of the third day, a lovely word that will forever remain close to my heart: “Malta!”
There it was, just as the sky was clearing and the wind calmed, at first a speck on the horizon. Then slowly, land rose out of the sea, high hills appeared. The waves began to diminish and, finally, we sailed into the vast and impressive harbor of high cliffs, ancient fortresses, palpable history, all gazing down on an impressive deep and natural anchorage well used for international shipping since the earliest of times.
The Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians controlled this island cluster before the Romans and the time of Paul. During Rome’s Punic Wars with Carthage, Malta became a Roman territory and remained so throughout the New Testament, Early Church, and Byzantine periods. The Arabs came in 870 A.D.; the Normans of Sicily threw out the Arabs in 1090 A.D.; and as the nastiness of the crusades was giving way to the Renaissance and the Reformation in 1530, Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire passed Malta over to the Knights Hospitalers. Also known as The Knights of Malta, these soldier remnants of the crusades built enormous fortifications to defend the island against the strong and expanding powers of the Ottoman Turks. As the name of these knights indicates, they ran a hospital on Malta that was second to none in all of Europe.
Malta, for us, turned out to be beautiful, fascinating, and exceedingly hospitable.
PRAYER FOR THE WEEK:
Lord, help us to be hospitable people. We sometimes lean in the direction of suspicion.
Allow us wisdom to see the hearts of our brothers and sisters on this earth and understand. May compassion outweigh circumspection. Let our trust not be foolhardy, but a reasonable and holy attempt to emulate your concern for all the families of the earth. Strengthen our ability to welcome the stranger in our midst. And let us recognize in each other your spirit of grace and truth. Amen.
*Malta was also known in Roman times as Melita, see Acts 28:1-11. Paul’s shipwreck near there likely occurred in roughly 60 A.D. Mine almost occurred in 2007.
For more ruminations like this one, I would love for you to visit the “Book Store” heading. This article and many more devotional thoughts (365 to be exact!) are in my 2012 book Approaching the Presence: A Year for Living Faithfully (this one came from pgs. 56-57).
If you choose to buy it, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!