Reading: Acts 8:26-39
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.
Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
“… the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”
A simple question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” An equally simple response, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Neither, early in the conversation, seemed to assume that this exchange was going to be of life changing proportions. The Ethiopian didn’t ask for enlightenment on the meaning of life, just for some help in gaining understanding. Philip did not offer up an explanation that was intended to elicit a radical conversion – he simply and faithfully engaged his knowledge with his conviction, and gave heartfelt guidance. The Ethiopian even had to broach the subject of his own baptism.
Philip was fresh from influencing mass conversions in Samaria. Here was a person who could have been riding high on his accomplishments; on his ability to appeal to and convert large numbers of people; on being a successful, evangelical church grower. He did not, however, think too highly of himself to go, at the Spirit’s prompting, and converse with someone as culturally distasteful as a foreign eunuch. It was simply another step on the pilgrimage, it seems. He faithfully and openly engaged the Ethiopian where and how he was, and in the process got to share in the unmitigated joy of the Ethiopian’s life changing experience.
Most people who are in ministry, ordained or lay, equate with Philip. I, however, have had more affinity with the Ethiopian. Society didn’t deem me culturally distasteful – quite the opposite, I was perceived as a successful risk-taker and, therefore, valuable. But I felt unacceptable – like soiled goods. I sold my life for money, and I was paying for it with my soul. I despised what I did for profit, but felt trapped in a cycle from which I couldn’t extricate myself. I eventually faced my own death and decided it looked better than my life.
I will forever remember B, the successful and harried music director at the church from which I remained aloof, who lovingly and faithfully spent twelve hours answering my questions and praying for me on the darkest night of my life. She wasn’t proud, preoccupied, judgmental of my circumstances, or puffed up in her own importance, but simply offered herself as a tool to God and shared in the joy I experienced as God transformed my life. By her faithful response to God’s nudging, B remains the best lesson in ministry I’ve had.