Read Acts 28
Focus on verse 6
Before the days of social media, information traveled a little slower than it does currently. This rapid propagation that occurs when things go viral can be of great service to genuine causes. It can also be of great detriment when what is being circulated is not true.
There are ways in which social media is the new version of what was once only possible when mobs of people took to the streets. It was a frightening thing when an emotionally charged mob would run a person out of town on a rail. If the one being run out was fortunate they did not first cover them with tar and feathers. While this literal tar and feathering rarely happens any more, social media has made it possible to virtually tar and feather a person whether they deserve it or not. In this sense the mob mentality is alive an well on social media, and it can be nearly as destructive as a literal mob is when emotions run high and reason is impaired.
In today’s reading the Apostle Paul and company find themselves shipwrecked on the island of Malta. When they first arrive they are welcomed by the locals who provide them with a fire by which to warm themselves and dry off from swimming ashore. When Paul is bitten by a snake, the locals superstitiously assume that he was an evil person being judged by the gods. When nothing happens to him they quickly change their collective minds. This is how quickly the tide of emotion can change the minds of a group of people.
They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (v. 6)
As a result of this miracle God opens the way for Paul to minister physical healing to many people on the island. By the time the group is ready to be on their way to Rome, they are sent off fully supplied as heroes, to a large extent because of the ministry of Paul, the prisoner.
God uses the mob mentality of the islanders and the faithful service of Paul and his friends to change what began as a catastrophic shipwreck into an opportunity for ministry that brought great benefit to the islanders. I have seen him do similar things numerous times in my short life, when I have chosen to trust that what seems like a catastrophe is actually an opportunity to change lives for the better. It can happen through a sickness, or an accident, or a simple inconvenience – if we are willing to trust God – He can change the mind of the mob in an instant.