One of the things we have found difficult about lockdown and the present situation is the restrictions on our movements, including the freedom to travel wherever and whenever we want. Holidays and exploration have been taken for granted for many years, and the human desire to explore the world is ancient (captured in epics such as Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and Virgil’s ‘Iliad’ as well as more modern epics, such as Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of The Rings.’) Life itself can be likened to a journey (where memories of ‘where we’ve been’ are related to ‘what has happened to us’, as Tom Wright puts it), and certainly journeys feature in the Old Testament narratives of God’s people, from Abraham’s journey from Harran through the wilderness wanderings as the people of God went from Egypt to the Promised Land to the people’s exile and return home seventy years later.
Luke’s account in Acts homes in on real people in real places and we see once again in Acts 20 the importance of geography. As a student of A Level history many years ago, one topic involved the Renaissance explorers (men such as Vasco da Gama, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Columbus) who discovered worlds and made their countries rich as a result (a subject I will not explore here!) I hated the topic because it involved geography and I could never fathom who was sailing where and why they ended up where they did (which was often not where they thought they were going!) I had chosen to study history; why did I have to learn all this geography?! However, as I have grown older, I see the value in geography and agree with Eugene Peterson’s comment that ‘all theology is rooted in geography.’ (‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’) The gospel spread through Paul’s missionary journeys (some of which were planned and some which really weren’t, such as landing in Malta after being shipwrecked!), and it’s perhaps no surprise that at this point in Luke’s narrative, we find Paul in Troas (ancient Troy), about to set off for Rome, just as Virgil’s hero travelled from Troy to Rome.
Heroes don’t always look the way we expect them to, and it’s interesting that the modern superheroes in comics (and subsequently films) are usually angst-ridden in some way (think of Bruce Wayne’s orphaned state, the emotional trauma of Ben (The Thing) or the guilt felt by Matt Murdock (DareDevil)). Life is a journey; heroes are actually ordinary people. The book of Acts taps into all these things, showing us ultimately that these miraculous ‘acts’ are actually fuelled by God working through ordinary people in ordinary places – and if God’s in on the act, then anything can happen!