But they crashed into a reef and ran the ship aground. The prow stuck fast and would not budge, while the strong waves were smashing the stern to bits. The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.
On the treacherous sea-voyage to Rome where Paul would appear before Caesar, the ship crashed onto a reef. The Roman protocol in situations like this was that prisoners should be killed to prevent escape. However, in this story a centurion broke the rules, spared Paul, and told the prisoners to swim to a nearby island. Why did this centurion take this risk? Imagine if Paul had not been saved by this man. This whole Acts chapter 27 is about Paul overcoming desperate storms and obstacles to fulfill the mission that God gave him. When circumstances were dire, someone saved him.
Have you ever felt so desperate to get somewhere or accomplish something with seemingly impossible odds? Was there one extraordinary person who made it possible when the situation was totally out of your control?
I remember my desperation on a business trip trying to fly from Charleston, WV to Washington, DC for a morning military healthcare meeting with the Surgeon General of the Army. It was icy weather and the airport grounded planes. Then it was announced that only one plane was landing, and it was going to fly to DC this very night. Immediately, I telephoned the 1-800 airline number only to be told, “no, there is no plane flying from Charleston WV to DC” (although I was looking at the pilot who had just entered the airport). I ran to him and explained my plight. He took my phone and told his airline agent that he was flying to DC and he was taking me. With no ticket or boarding pass, he took my suitcase and we walked to the plane. I learned the pilot was a retired Army pilot and, needless to say, an airline agent was waiting for me at the gate in DC!
The Roman Centurion, like the pilot, took a risk and broke the rules to help. In the case of the Centurion named Julius, we see he showed compassion to Paul before the ship even sailed (Acts chapter 3). N.T. Wright says of the centurion, “He does the wrong thing which is also the right thing.”
In her book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong says, “And sometimes it’s the very otherness of a stranger, someone who doesn’t belong to our ethnic or ideological or religious group, an otherness that can repel us initially, but which can jerk us out of our habitual selfishness, and give us intonations of that sacred otherness, which is God.”
How can Luke’s story help motivate us to living a more compassionate life? When have we done something against the rules (the wrong thing) for the right reason? How can we raise our awareness of that sacred otherness, which is God?
Connie Clark, EfM, Year 4 & Mentor