The readings invite us to think about journeys, different kinds of journeys. A first, obvious, meaning is geographical, journeys from place to place. Paul, Barnabas and other friends make journeys away from Jerusalem through the lands and cities of Asia Minor and on to Europe, to Malta, to Italy. So the Acts of the Apostles tells us, a movement away from Jerusalem spoken of first by Jesus at the beginning of the Acts and then carried through in the preaching missions of the apostles that are recorded there. This movement complements the movement of Luke’s first work, the third gospel, which is always ‘towards Jerusalem’.
The purpose of these journeys falls under the rubric of ‘bringing salvation to the ends of the earth’. The apostles, called to be the light to the nations, bring the salvation of God to the ends of the earth.
This last phrase has a long tradition of use in the scriptures – the Servant of the Lord spoken of in the Book of Isaiah is the first whose mission is described in this way. Then Simeon, when he sees the child Jesus presented in the Temple, rejoices that he is seeing God’s salvation, ‘a light for the revelation of the gentiles’ (Luke 2:32). In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes himself as the light of the world (John 8:12) whereas in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus describes his disciples as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).
The disciples are to be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). This is what Acts records, how the message of the resurrection was carried to Rome, to the heart of the known world, and so to the ends of the earth. Paul understands himself as the apostle to the gentiles (Romans 11:13; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:7), the one who has been sent to open the eyes of the pagans to the light of God (Acts 26:18).
What is the theological meaning of these journeys? Through this travelling of Jesus, of Paul, and of the other apostles, deacons and disciples ‘the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside’ (Acts 13:49). On one level we are talking about ordinary human journeying, on another we are talking about the light of God’s Word beginning to shine in new places, new people, and other lives.
These are the people who have been through the great persecution, we are told in Apocalypse 7:14. There are journeys other than physical, geographical ones that are central to Christian life and experience. One of these is a strange kind of ‘journey’ for it means standing firm in time of persecution. The Lamb leads to springs of living water those who stood firm during the persecution of Nero. They now stand at the throne of God ‘who will spread his tent over them’.
What kind of journey is this? Not one from one place to another place but a journey from one condition to another, from one stage of faith to another. All who follow the Good Shepherd seek to hear his voice in the changing situations of their lives and to live up to what he asks.
Today is Vocations Sunday. We are asked to think of our vocation not as something heard and answered once for all but as a call that comes to us each day, a call that may yet ask new things of us as we journey through life.
Here is another meaning of the phrase ‘to the ends of the earth’. It is not just all places and all times but refers also to all situations and to all circumstances. It means all individual lives, it means you and me, called to be lights to the world, seeking to bring the gospel to bear on all the moments of our lives, everything in our thoughts and words and actions.
Each of us is to be a missionary then, at least to ourselves. There is at least this one territory – our own life, heart, mind – for which we must take responsibility and seek to bring the light of Christ’s word to bear on it.