Summary: Philippi was a tough place to start a mission - wrong type of people, wrong area, wrong timing! But it seems that God doesn’t need straightforward circumstances in or...
We’re reading from the diary of St Paul, as given to us in the book of Acts - a section covering Paul’s second tour of duty in Asia Minor.
In Acts Chapter 16, Paul begins what we might call the Apostolic invasion of Europe! In the diary entry that follows this one, Paul and his comrade Silas are captured and tortured, which leads to a sort of Guantanamo Bay incident, where their captors then face a possible scandal for overstepping their authority in their treatment of the two evangelists.
In this week‘s reading though, everything begins much more happily. Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia, which leads him and his fellows to embark on a journey that will indeed change history!
The scene opens with Paul in Troas - a major seaport in North-Western Turkey, actually only about 50km from Gallipoli! Paul had been travelling from Israel through Turkey, entirely by land up to this point. I’ve mentioned before that the ancient Jews had a great fear of the sea, and I imagine that Paul felt more comfortable traversing these great distances by carriage, camel or by foot, rather than by boat, even if it took a lot more effort.
The decision to cross to Macedonia, however, required a sea voyage across the Mediterranean into Europe - a trip that would become for Paul the first of many epic sea voyages, though if going by air had been an option, I’m sure he would have taken It. Even so, Paul had no hesitation in booking tickets on the boat, once he received the vision of the man from Macedonia, calling out to him for help.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a vision of this sort - someone calling to you for help in a dream. Gladys Aylward, in the early 1900’s, had a somewhat similar vision of a Chinese man in her cupboard - a vision that led her into China, where she preached and served in leper colonies and did amazing work! I can’t pretend that I’ve ever had such a vision, and I don’t expect to get one, chiefly because I’m not in a position to just get up and head off to another country! I have a family, and consequent responsibilities at home.
One thing that Gladys Aylward had in common with the Apostle Paul, which they have in common with all our Catholic clergy brethren is that they are all single people, able to get up and move house or country at a moment’s notice
Indeed, I remember hearing of one Catholic priest talking about what his celibacy meant to him - ‘radical availability’ was his answer! Being celibate meant that he was radically available to God and to others, as was St Paul, in a way that most of us are not, though this is indeed what makes single people such potentially powerful soldiers on the mission field!
Paul hears the pleading cries from the man of Macedonia, and so he gets into a boat and sets sail on this historic journey - the Apostolic invasion of Europe - for it was indeed the first time that a Christian evangelist had ventured outside of the Middle East!
This was probably not what Paul initially had planned to do. In his first tour of duty, Paul had travelled around Asia Minor, focusing on areas such as Galatia, preaching and setting up churches, and an educated guess would be that he had intended to go from Troas (on the North-Western tip of Turkey) back inland, eastwards, to revisit the churches he had recently founded. This vision threw those plans into confusion! It was therefore most likely an unwelcome vision, and not only because he would have been looking forward to catching up with friends in Galatia, but also because Philippi was probably not somewhere he wanted to visit!
For us, an invitation to come to Macedonia might be similar to an invitation to come to Phuket or Hawaii - a great place for a holiday! For Paul though, it was probably more like an invitation to modern Afghanistan, for Philippi was a rough place, and not an ideal holiday destination for a Jew. Philippi, in Paul’s time, was a town full of vets (and I don‘t mean the kind that look after animals). It was a colony that had been developed solely for the benefit of retired servicemen from the Roman legions.
If you know your ancient history, you’ll know that one of the big problems for kings and emperors alike in the ancient world was what to do with your old soldiers, once they reached retirement age. When you think about it, you realise that this would not be a group of persons that the government could ever afford to have offside. The last thing you needed, as emperor of Rome, was to have 100,000 or so grumbling ex-legionaries gathering together somewhere on the outskirts of the empire. In short, it was a priority for the Roman government to pension off their veterans very generously.