Kieran Fenn fms
Even after living with Jesus for one year (Mark, Matthew, Luke) or three years (John), his followers still had not caught the vision. They ask about restoring earthly kingdoms to Israel. As Jesus is taken from their sight they are left looking up. I am sure that angels are very polite, and the question asked, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?’ is really a veiled instruction telling them not to stay looking up but to look out – there is a world out there waiting for the Gospel.
By the time Luke writes Acts, possibly in the mid 80s, the Mediterranean world that he knew had heard the message of Jesus through the preaching of the disciples of Jesus. Their message had gone out to all the earth. Luke wants to get the prophetic accomplishment of worldwide mission across to his readers and he does this by creating in embryo form the eventual universal success of Christianity.
The passage that does this is Acts 2:5-13, notably the map in vv.9-11. This Mediterranean map goes back to Paul of Alexandria, around 300 BCE. Luke may well have learned it as a child at school. The 12 signs of the zodiac circled the Mediterranean world and the order of the list of named places fits exactly into an elliptical sweep from East to West. Persians, Medes, and Elamites made up the realm of Persia under Aries; the residents of Mesopotamia were the region of Babylon under Taurus. These were followed by Cappadocia (Gemini), Pontus (Armenia East, Cancer), Asia (Armenia West, Leo), Phrygia and Pampyhlia (Greece and Iona, Virgo), Lybia and Cyrene (Libra), visitors from Rome (Italy, Scorpio), Cretans made up the group of Sicily, Crete, Syria and Egypt (Sagittarius, Capricorn, and Aquarius), and finally Arabs (Red Sea and Indian region, Pisces).
If we look up we see the heavens and the stars and the world of that time that knew nothing of the distant lands in which we live. But the apostles did not look up; in line with their Lord’s instruction, they looked out and were his ‘witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). Clearly, like any missionary, the language of the peoples had to be learned, but what did speak to all peoples was the universal message of God’s love poured out in Jesus Christ. A humanity divided into many tongues in the story of the Tower of Babel now speaks the one language of the Good News of God’s redemptive love and activity through Jesus Christ. That is the message our synod of 2006 still attempts to carry to people, to ensure that ‘their sound does go out to renew the face of the earth’.