Venom-Proof

by

Friday, October 17, 2014 – Proper 23, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)

Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10, 18-27

Acts 28:1-16

Luke 9:28-36

Although Paul usually accompanies his missionary travels with long-winded speeches, in today’s reading he makes a different sort of impact on the people he meets. Today, he simply survives a snake bite.

The story of Paul and the viper is not, however, just about super-human powers. Rather, it is about the ways we misinterpret phenomena as signs of condemnation or judgment. Paul bears witness to God’s loving kindness simply by defying expectations of divine judgment . . . by living, rather than dying.

Paul is traveling under guard to face trial in Rome, and he has stopped on the island of Malta. The native Maltese people show Paul and his companions “unusual kindness” by building a fire and welcoming everyone to sit around it, offering warmth to ward off the rain and cold.

When Paul tries to add brushwood to the fire, a viper emerges and bites his hand. The people see it hanging from Paul’s hands by its fangs, and they immediately condemn Paul. They think, “This man must be a murderer.” They believe that, while Paul escaped a dangerous sea voyage, divine justice would have the last word after all by sending a snake to kill him.

But Paul’s God doesn’t work that way. Paul’s God works by defying expectations of condemnation, judgment, and death. The people are “expecting him to swell up or drop dead,” but Paul does no such thing. In fact, he not only survives, but goes on to heal others.

What an extraordinary mission for us to take on today: proclaiming our immunity to the venom of condemnation and judgment that can seep so easily into our view of God, and poison the faith that should heal the world. It seems like Biblical snakes are always trying to make God’s creatures fear their loving creator! Today, let’s not give them the last word, or the last bite.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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