August 21, 2011

The Messenger

Posted in Advent, Serpent, St. Paul at 5:35 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Dripping wet, he shivered on the rainy beach,
Bruised by shards of the once-mighty ship.
He reached to help his rescuers build a fire
And felt a viper sting his fingertip.

The natives, seeing his misfortunes grow,
Assumed that justice plagued an evil man.
But God’s Apostle shook the poisonous snake
Into the fire, and rested in his Father’s plan.

So they, amazed that he remained unharmed,
Then changed their minds and said he was a god.
And he proclaimed to them the news of Him
Whose foot had on the deadly serpent trod.

How beautiful the path-worn feet of those
Who battle with the serpent and still bring
The Gospel to this shipwrecked world!
Their sufferings proclaim a conquering King.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The primary text that inspired this poem is the story that begins in Acts 27:1 and ends in Acts 28:10, which tells of St. Paul being shipwrecked on Malta while being transported to prison in Rome. It would have been all too easy for him to feel sorry for himself, a prisoner who had warned his captors that the sea was dangerous, who was cold and bruised from being shipwrecked, and who now, in the process of building a comforting fire, has just been bitten by a poisonous snake (reminiscent of Genesis 3:14-15). Instead of wallowing in self-pity, St. Paul used this opportunity to minister to others, and through his prayers for the sick, to give glory to the One who rules all storms and heals all our diseases. The natives had originally thought St. Paul bore the curse of God, yet he was able through the power of the Holy Spirit to turn back the curse by healing the sick among them. The poem ends with a reference to Isaiah 52:7-8 (which St. Paul quotes in Romans 10:15) in genuine thanks to all who follow St. Paul in sharing the Gospel of grace and hope.


My notes indicate that a non-rhyming version of this poem was completed on June 17, 2007. I had the ideas together and needed to get them written down, but it took some time to shape it into a form I was willing to share. Even though I enjoy reading other people’s free verse, I have a difficult time considering any of my theological poetry complete unless I’ve put it through the discipline of meter and rhyme. I suppose that need flows from my concept of God as orderly. My favorite truth about the Holy Spirit is that He comes into our lives to bring order out of chaos. I’ll reserve discussions about free verse when I post one that I left in that form. Meanwhile, here’s the original version, which I really like a lot because it contains the word “fangs.” One does not often get to use that word in poetry:

Dripping wet and shivering by the fire
And bruised by shards of broken ship,
He felt the sting of viper fangs
And sighed, and shook it to the ground.
The natives, seeing that he suffered much,
Assumed that justice plagued an evil man,
But then amazed that he remained unharmed,
They changed their minds and said he was a god.
So he proclaimed to them the news of Him
Whose foot had crushed the serpent’s head.
How beautiful the bitten hands of those
Whose sufferings proclaim their mighty King!

Just as an aside, the original title for this poem was the Greek term for “messenger,” from which the English word “angel” is derived. The farther I get from seminary days, the more pretentious it seems to have a lot of Greek and Hebrew floating around in my poetry. I promise to keep it to a minimum.

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