Wednesday, January 01, 2020

DE Ponderings

by Kevin Kessler

Acts 27:1-28:2

Here at the end of the New Testament book of Acts, the Apostle Paul, now a prisoner, is moved from one location to another by ship. It is winter and a poor time for this mode of transportation. Thus, the journey is very difficult. After fourteen days on treacherous seas, the ship nears land, runs aground on a reef, and is broken up by the force of the waves. Paul and the other 275 persons on board miraculously jump ship and make it safely to shore on the island of Malta. The natives of the island built a fire and welcomed the shivering, weary passengers around it.

The narrative suggests that this simple act of sharing a warm fire is an unusual kindness (Acts 28:2 NRSV/NIV). Other versions of the Bible name it as an extraordinary (NASB), no little (KJV), no common (ASB), and uncommon (J.B. Phillips) kindness. The Message is more expressive and says they “went out of their way to be friendly.” Easily arguable is that this simple act of kindness is quite common, even commonsense. When persons are cold and weary, the common-sense action is to help them warm up. On the other hand, the natives could have taken a more apathetic approach to do nothing for the shipwrecked survivors because of their foolishness to sail in such dangerous weather. Or, the common occurrence of shipwrecked passengers may have caused the natives to become immune to any kind of assistance. Why be kind to those who are foolish and whose numbers are nearly beyond comprehension? What’s the point? Let them suffer alone.

The Malta natives instead react with an innate compassion. Their DNA, in a manner of speaking, compels them to act kindly. A non-response would be nearly impossible. Their response is unusual, uncommon, huge, extraordinary because they do what others may leave undone. Their actions do not go unnoticed. These people extend kindness to strangers, to some probably very scruffy, and maybe questionable, looking sea-goers. Perchance these marooned characters were pirates, thinkingly imaginatively. Unwaveringly, unquestionably, the Malta natives extend mercy, and grace, and compassion, and friendship without reservation. No wonder Paul describes it as unusual, extraordinary, uncommon kindness.

Receiving unusual kindness is an experience about which to share. Paul’s experience was significant enough that he wrote about it. Chances are good that others in Paul’s company disclosed details about this encounter as well. Little imagination is needed to realize that news about such uncommon kindness was scattered as seed in other places, taking root and producing more extraordinary acts of kindness.

Allow the merits of this story in Acts to transcend time. Consider the shipwrecks, metaphorically speaking, we encounter nowadays and the people who are adversely affected and displaced. How do we respond when strangers who have experienced extreme difficulties land in our midst suffering from lack of shelter, warmth, family, the familiar, sustaining food, clean water, clothing, a healthy relationship, or any other amenity that provides for their comfort? Imagine if kindness, unusual and extraordinary, would be extended?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference", suggests that significant changes can occur from small, relatively free of cost, actions and/or messages. Although he doesn’t specifically mention acts of kindness in the book as a means of bringing about noteworthy transformation, he certainly could have. His principles of reaching a tipping point whereby noticeable change is achieved could easily be applied to acts of kindness. Not just any acts of kindness, but unusual, extraordinary, going out of our way, innately compassionate acts of kindness. To listen without judgment may avoid schisms in the Church. To authentically interact relationally with the person who is isolated may reduce the incidences of mass killings. To engage with one another face-to-face rather than by technology may increase our ability to see the other respectfully and with dignity. To honor the earth by caring for it responsibly may increase the long-term sustainability of the planet we call home.

Imagine the outcomes if the actions aforementioned, and others not mentioned that would have similar positive results, would replace our present apathy and divisiveness. Perhaps it is time to stop imagining and initiate kind acts, if we aren’t already. Or if we are, then in what ways might we exercise more fully our kindness muscles?

Ample opportunities await us to share unusual acts of kindness. What are we waiting for?