The Pandemic has put us all in the same boat. Whether we realise it or not, we are “all in this together”. In April this year UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that we are caught up in a global public health emergency, which is also an economic crisis, a social crisis and a developing human rights crisis.
The two hundred and seventy-five people adrift in the Mediterranean with the apostle Paul were likewise “all in this together”. At one point the sailors tried to jump ship by lowering a boat into the sea in the hope of escaping and leaving the rest to their fate. But Paul quickly put a stop to that, telling the centurion:
Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved (Acts 27.31).
The soldiers cut the ropes and set the boat adrift.
Attempting to escape the restrictions imposed by being “all in this together” – whether now in the Pandemic or then on the boat with Paul – puts everyone at risk.
Like all the best stories, this one functions on several levels at the same time. It is first of all a straightforward account of people being saved from drowning at sea. Paul, despite being technically a prisoner under guard, effectively takes charge of the ship and saves the passengers. Before his intervention they had given up hope and were waiting to die.
The root word for “saved”/”salvation” crops up seven times in the narrative of Acts 27 and 28 (in various forms which are not always obvious in the English translations). In the Bible, seven is the number of completeness (think seven days of creation). This is a story of rescue from death, not just of some of those on board, but everybody. It’s total rescue.
Paul was a preacher of the gospel, of “good news”. In this instance, he is being good news. In the same way, we are called not only to proclaim good news but to be it.
Like Jesus himself, we are to do as much good as we can, particularly in a time of emergency. We are not supposed to sit back passively and let events take their course; we are supposed to do something to help.
Total rescue is the heart of God for his world, not just from the coronavirus, but from all the effects of human foolishness, selfishness and alienation from God. Paul’s companions were rescued from death by trusting him – believing what he told them and acting on it. So it is with rescue (“salvation”) from our bad choices and the ingrained selfishness which the Bible calls sin. Salvation is “by faith”: taking Jesus at his word and putting our lives in his hands.
More on Paul’s voyage in my next post.