IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
Here is the most legendary story of the New Testament. From Caesarea to Rome, “sailing had become hazardous” (Acts 27:9) after the time of the Fast and now as winter approached. In effect, the ship was driven about from Crete to Malta for fifteen days. They lost their sense of direction because “Neither the sun nor the stars were visible” (Acts 27:20). Paul, the prisoner, was freer than the 276 members of the crew, the captain, the pilot, the centurion and the sailors, for he was accustomed to the sea and had been shipwrecked three times prior (cf. 2 Cor. 11:25) and, above all, he had a sense of security and confidence that came from God: “Not one of you will be lost, only the ship” (Acts 27:22). When everything seemed lost, he told his companions, “An angel of the God to whom (I) belong and whom I serve stood by me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul… God has granted safety to all who are sailing with you” (Acts 27:23-24).
Everyone reached the island; some swam to shore, while others drifted there on planks or debris from the ship. This simple and idylliac leg of their journey - “The natives showed us extraordinary hospitality; they lit a fire and welcomed all of us” (Acts 28:2) - symbolizes how the Pagan world was welcoming the Gospel. After the danger had passed and the shipwreck, Luke viewed this wonderful stop in Malta as the taste of the dawn of a resurrection. While Paul was placing a bundle of brushwood on the fire, a viper attached itself to his hand. He shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm…and the island’s inhabitants took him to be a God (cf. Acts 28:6). As well, Paul healed the father of the chief of the island, laying his hands on him, and on the crowd of sick who came to him. Finally, “They paid us great honor and when we eventually set sail they brought us the provisions we needed” (Acts 28:10).
Thereafter, they sailed to Syracuse, Rhegium and Puteoli. Paul had the great joy of being welcomed by some brothers – who had traveled 50 kilometers on foot to see him -, because the Apostle was not unknown: three years before, they had received his great Letter to the Romans. In Rome, he found a community of Christians, whose origin is silently passed over in the Acts of the Apostles, and whom Luke described as quite large and renowned for its faith and works. Undoubtedly, Hebrew merchants brought Christianity here very early on, but it remained isolated near some synagogues. At the time of Emperor Claudius’ death, there were about 50,000 Jews from very different regions, spread throughout the large agglomeration in various synagogues.
Paul, thus, reached Rome in the year 61 to undergo judgment. After two years of living in a guarded residence, in the heart of the city close to the Tiber (the present Jewish neighborhood), during which time Paul evangelized and wrote, the case against him dissolved for lack of accusers. But in 64, after the fire occurred in Rome, Nero accused the Christians of being responsible for it. Therefore Paul was arrested, bound in chains in the Mamertine Prison and condemned to beheading, which took place outside the Aurelian Walls, along the Ostiense Way, most likely between the years 65 and 67.