This is the story of Aeneas.
No, not that one.
Maybe you had to read it in high school (or “had the privilege of reading it,” for the teachers out there): Virgil’s Aeneid. It’s the epic story of Aeneas, a Trojan hero of royal lineage and the son of Aphrodite (how’s that for a family tree?). He gets only a bit part in Homer’s Iliad. But in Roman mythology, particularly through Virgil, Aeneas gets star treatment and is lifted up with pride as an ancestor of Rome.
That fact could not have been lost on Luke as he told the story of the miraculous healing of another man at another time, whose name also happened to be Aeneas. In previous posts, we’ve been thinking together about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Luke now leaves Saul for a while, and returns the story to Peter:
As Peter toured the whole region, he went to visit God’s holy people in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and had been confined to his bed for eight years. Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you! Get up and make your bed.” At once he got up. Everyone who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord. (Acts 9:32-35, CEB)
Peter is going about the regions surrounding Jerusalem, visiting believers. Remember the context: the church started in Jerusalem, but the persecution of believers in which Saul was a zealous participant had scattered them to outlying areas. After Saul’s conversion and return to Tarsus, there was relative peace, and the church prospered.
In the meantime, it’s not as if Peter had been hiding out in Jerusalem. He and John had already preached their way through Samaria, building on the previous evangelistic work of Philip. But given the lull in trouble and persecution, it was time for Peter to do some pastoral visitation.
Luke’s healing story is as brief and unadorned as they come, especially when read against the much more detailed account of the healing of Tabitha (Dorcas) that follows. We’re not told how Peter “found” Aeneas. Was it in the course of making house-to-house pastoral visits? We’re not told anything about Aeneas himself, other than his affliction. All we get is a bare bones account: Peter went here, found this guy, and healed him, which made a big impact on everyone else.
Badda bing, badda boom.
The few details we’re given, of course, matter. The story is brief, but that doesn’t make the miracle insignificant. The healing itself is reminiscent of the miracles of Jesus, who had healed the lame in fulfillment of ancient prophecy. As he had done before, Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus. The healing was instantaneous and complete. And as neighbors encountered the once bedridden man, whole and healthy, it caused them to turn to Jesus, in whose name and by whose power Aeneas had been healed.
End of story? Perhaps. But I just can’t let go of the name itself: Aeneas.
The book of Acts, after all, will end in Rome, the city that traced its mythic origin back to the legend of Aeneas. Interaction and conflict between the church and the Empire runs through the entire book of Acts as the gospel spreads, particularly through the ministry of Paul, a Roman citizen, to the Gentiles.
And here, immediately after the dramatic story of the conversion of Saul (Paul!) and his temporary return to Tarsus, and before the launching of Paul’s missionary enterprise, it might be good to tell a brief tale whose punchline is, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you!”
Maybe that was Luke’s intent. Maybe it wasn’t.
But even if not, I can’t imagine that the point would have been lost on him. He would have enjoyed the irony.
And, I imagine, Theophilus would have appreciated it too.