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In the Gospel of Luke and in Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke (along with St. Paul) showcases Philippi, Thessalonika, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Rhodes, Cyprus, Caesarea, Jerusalem and Rome.


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Travels With Luke
From Jerusalem to Rome

by Elizabeth McNamer

Throughout the Scriptures, the theme of journey as a literary form is common. Abraham's journey to the land of Canaan signifies a move from barren unbelief to fruitful faith; Jacob's dysfunctional family moved from Canaan into Egypt, a journey that changed their manner from hatred and envy to love and reconciliation; Moses and his followers journeyed through the Sinai from the worship of a proliferation of gods to monotheism; Elijah made a 40-day journey from Carmel to Mount Horeb, fleeing the wrath of Jezebel and representing a shift from the worship of Baal to the worship of Yahweh.

In Luke's Gospel as well as his Acts of the Apostles, we follow the journey of the church from its roots in Judaism to a Gentile religion on its own.

A hint of Luke's design is given in the infancy narrative in his gospel. He starts by announcing the birth of John the Baptist when "Herod was king of Judea. " Judea was a small place within the province of Syria, one of the larger regions of the mighty Roman Empire. John's ministry would be confined to this insignificant part of the world. When Luke writes of the birth of Jesus, however, it happens when Caesar Augustus is Emperor of Rome! Unlike John, the birth of Jesus will have worldwide implications.

The exodus from Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles started after the stoning of Stephen. Paul, whose home was in the Gentile world, was present at the execution. His conversion happened soon after, on the way to Damascus. Here he was baptized by Ananias who was told "...this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel" (Acts 9:15-16). And indeed Paul will make four journeys to accomplish this.

Journeying With Paul

Journeying in the Roman world was no easy feat. Although Rome had developed an infrastructure for travel to the principal routes of the Empire, the roads were a far cry from our modern highway system. The Appian Way was perhaps eight feet at its widest. The main mode of transport was the camel. The route was filled with "robbers, lions, fleas and wild boars," as one sojourner commented. Travel by ship was faster but more dangerous. One had to bring everything one would require including food, water and bedding.

Luke tells us that Paul made this first journey with Barnabas from Antioch in Syria. Antioch was the city where Gentiles were first received into the church. They visited the island of Cyprus, where they converted the Gentile proconsul, Sergius Paulus. They then sailed across the sea to Asia Minor, went inland to visit Antioch in Pisidia, and Derbe, Lystra and Iconium, which lay in the backwaters of Galatia.

Paul's later travels would take him to large cities. An old tradition says that he went to these places in Galatia at the urging of Sergius Paulus, who owned property there. Later, in his letter back to that community, Paul comments that he only went there in the first place because he was sick! (Gal 4:13). It was to these people that Paul later wrote that the sign of a true Christian is not one who is a mere follower of the Mosaic law, but one who shows "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22-23).

Early tradition has it that Luke was a disciple of Paul and traveled with him much of the time. Paul mentions a Luke in three of his letters (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Philemon 24) and in one of them refers to him as "our beloved physician." In Acts 16, the author changes from writing in the third person to the first as though he himself were a witness to those things he records.

It seems to have been at Troas, in Asia Minor, in the year 48, that Luke joined Paul. Troas was the jumping-off port for Europe. The travelers crossed the Bosphorus from Asia into Greek territory, stopping at the island of Samothrace.

Philippi was their first port of call. This important town was called after Philip, father of Alexander the Great. Here Anthony and Octavian had defeated the murderers of Julius Caesar three decades before the birth of Jesus and had granted Roman citizenship to the inhabitants. Many veterans from Italy had settled here, so Latin was spoken as well as Greek. Philippi boasted all the amenities of a Roman city: theater, magnificent entry arch, temples, elaborate baths, library and a large forum where business was conducted. Lydia, whom Paul and Luke met outside the city by the river, may have had a booth here for her purple dye business. The wearing of purple garments was restricted to the ruling classes.

It is at Philippi that we are first introduced to women, often mentioned by Luke in his writings. Evodia, Syntyche and Syzygus are mentioned as having befriended them. Lydia invited them to her home, quite an offer considering that it has been suggested that the travelers never stayed less than a year in one place!

They were received with warmth and hospitality, which they would long remember. The Philippians would later send Paul not only money to support his cause but one of their own, Epaphroditus, to take care of his needs. The preaching in Philippi seems to have been confined to Jews and "God fearers."

But the stay in Philippi ended by their being thrown in prison by the authorities, the only charge being: "They are Jews and advocate customs which are not lawful for us Romans to adopt or practice." An earthquake intervened and the magistrates ordered them freed. At this point Paul claimed his Roman citizenship and they were quickly escorted out of town.

On the Road Again

Thessalonika, on the Aegean Sea, the largest city in Macedonia, was linked to Philippi by the Via Egnatia and was about three days away by walking. This city was "free," which meant that there were no Roman soldiers there. Paul set himself up as a tent maker earning his living by his trade, "toiling and straining day and night." Laziness seems to have been a problem with the Thessalonians. Letters sent back to them urge these people to "work with your hands as we directed you to" (1 Thes 4:11). "We worked day and night to the point of exhaustion...that we might present an example for you to imitate...we used to lay down the rule that anyone who would not work should not eat " (2 Thes 3:8-10).

After the humiliation he had received from the authorities at Philippi, Paul tried to keep a low profile "as gentle as a nursing mother fondling her little ones." The evangelizing work began in the synagogue where "some were convinced and joined Paul and Silas, as well as God fearers and wealthy women"(Acts 17:4). But some Jews were resentful and hired thugs in the market place to harass the group. They caused trouble for the families who had befriended Paul. Jason, at whose house they stayed, was hauled before the magistrates. He was freed on bail.

From Thessalonika they went to Beroea. Here Paul preached in the synagogue where they met with some enthusiasm. Many converted, and the message was later received by "influential Greek men and women" (Acts 17:12).

By now we are seeing more and more Gentile converts. Indeed the next stop will be the one-time heart of Greece itself, Athens. Here Paul argued in the marketplace with Epicurean and Stoic Greek philosophers whose intent was to "see what this magpie has to tell us." Dionysius the Aeropagite and Damaris and a few others became convinced by his "chattering" and joined up. But the stay in Athens could not be called a great success. They quickly moved on to Corinth, a more fertile field.

Corinth was the intellectual and cultural center of the Greek world. It was important, bustling and cosmopolitan. It had a large Jewish population, many of whom had been driven out of Rome earlier by the Emperor Claudius. Paul stayed with two of them, Aquila and Priscilla. He became angry at the Jews for not accepting him and vowed, "From now on I will go to the Gentiles" (Acts 18:6).

We seldom think of Paul as fearful. Perhaps after the sessions in Athens, Paul was having a crisis of self-confidence. The Lord appeared to him and said, "Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you" (Acts 18:10).

Immorality was rampant in Corinth. Here, sailors disembarked from long voyages, paychecks in hand. There were plenty of girls ready to grant them love for a price. One street in Corinth has revealed dozens of houses of prostitution. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians addresses some of the issues.

The third journey takes us to Ephesus, a beautiful city on the gulf of the Aegean Sea in the Roman province of Asia. It had wide, magnificent streets, a theater that held 6,000 people, and a library. Statues of important Romans lined the agora or marketplace. It had a large medical facility. An enormous temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis dominated the town and silversmiths made a fortune in selling likenesses of the goddess to visitors.

Paul and his companions came here in 55 and remained for three years. After he was unkindly received in the synagogue, Paul held discussions in the hall of Tyrannus where "both Jews and Gentiles heard the word." This series of lectures went on for two years. By the time he left Ephesus, after the silversmiths' riot for lack of business, there must have been a sizable number of Christians.

At Last to Rome

Luke takes us on a cruise of the Mediterranean, pointing out places visited: the island of Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Cyprus, and then Tyre on the Phoenecian coast. They visited Caesarea, where Herod the Great had built a magnificent artificial harbor, and then made a last trip to Jerusalem. Here Paul ran into Jewish hostility and was arrested. He went back to Caesarea as a prisoner and remained there for two years. In frustration he appealed to the authorities to send him to Rome.

From Caesarea, Paul was sent to Rome. The ship sailed up the coast to Sidon through the brilliant blue and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. The voyage started in earnest along the north side of Cyprus. At Myra they boarded another vessel that was carrying grain from Egypt to Rome. The ship edged its way along the coast of Crete and out into open waters.

Autumn was waning, and sudden storms could appear in the Ionian Sea and sink the boat. Paul had sailed the seas many times, but always in an easterly direction. He had gone overland when traveling west. Sailing in winter was particularly dangerous. He tried to warn his shipmates not to put their lives in jeopardy. Sure enough, a storm arose. Yet Paul assured his hearers: "none among you will be lost." They spent 14 harrowing days with no food. The sailors dumped the cargo and planned to abandon the ship, but Paul put a stop to this and the 276 on board arrived safely on shore.

Winter was spent on the island of Malta, where Paul made more converts among the pagans. Luke records the whole journey. The description of the trip is amazingly detailed.

Some one hundred years earlier, the Roman poet Virgil had written his epic account of Aeneas's journey from Troy to found the city of Rome. Aeneas left the ancient Trojan city to establish the new eternal one. Had Luke read his Virgil? He carries Paul through the same waters. After Malta, they arrive in Sicily and then on to Italy.

Rome, the capital of the world, to which all roads led, had been reached. The message of Jesus, begun in Jerusalem, had traveled through the Empire, changing as it moved and gathering Gentiles. Judaism had been left behind. Through the vehicle of the Roman Empire, Christianity would eventually spread to the whole world.

Elizabeth McNamer has a Ph.D. in adult education from Montana State University and an M.A. in religious studies from Gonzaga University. She teaches at Rocky Mountain College.

 

Praying With Scriptures

Read the Acts of the Apostles, 16—27. Spreading the good news is no easy task. Pray for those who are actively engaged in it and for the courage to spread the word yourself to those who may be eager to receive it.

 

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