As we continue our journey of Eastertide, we continue to explore the consequences of the resurrection on our daily living. This week, we turn to the Acts of the Apostles, and the vivid story between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. What seems like a simple witness story, the apostle Philip teaching and converting the foreign eunuch, is not simple at all. In fact, we learn from both characters, in very different ways, what posture toward God we should assume, what our responsibility to each other and the community of faith is, and what our response to the resurrection and one another can be.
Our first lesson from these two characters is what posture toward God we can assume. Philip shows us the posture of responding to God, no matter what the instruction. Philip is told by an angel of the Lord to go south. There is no explanation about why he should go or what the itinerary will be, or why he should take the dangerous wilderness road. Later, the Holy Spirit tells Philip to approach a quickly-moving chariot, containing a person of influence, who may reject this disheveled disciple. Both times, Philip responds immediately, sprinting to follow the Spirit. We see in Philip no complaining or whining to God. Philip hears God’s word of instruction and Philip responds, no questions asked.
We also learn from the eunuch’s posture toward God. The eunuch is a man of color, looking distinctly different from any Jew from Israel; he is a court official, a man of importance and wealth[i]; his sexual status has been altered, making him barred from the temple.[ii] So this man, this unnamed eunuch, has both power and a lack of power. But despite his exclusion from the temple, he is pursuing God. And, despite his half-fulfilled experience in Jerusalem, he will not be deterred from seeking God. This outsider by all other standards shows us the posture of constant, undeterred pursuit of God.
After Philip and the eunuch teach us about the appropriate postures toward God, the pair teaches us about our responsibilities to one another and to the community of faith. Philip teaches us of our responsibility to serve as guides to one another.[iii] Imagine for a moment the best teacher you ever had. Usually our best teachers are not didactic, but are more guides who are in the learning journey with us. That is exactly what Philip offers when he sits beside the eunuch in the chariot. He sits beside the foreign, castrated man, and treats him like an equal in the pursuit of following Jesus. Philip teaches us that our work is to be guides with one another in this journey of growing to know God.
The eunuch teaches us a lot about our responsibilities toward one another too. As a person of influence and power, the eunuch could have easily brushed off Philip, telling this dirty disciple to get away from his pristine chariot. But instead, the eunuch is completely unafraid to ask questions. He willingly admits he needs a guide, he wants to know how to interpret scripture, and he wants to know if he too can be baptized. His willingness to question reveals a sense of humility and engagement, and a willingness to trust someone in the community to teach him.
After teaching us about the appropriate posture toward God, the responsibilities to one another and the community of faith, Philip and the eunuch finally teach us about what our work or response to God and one another can be. Philip responds to God by proclaiming the good news. This step is often the hardest for us. When the time for proclaiming the gospel comes, we clam up, fear we are not qualified, or are afraid to come off as pushy or sanctimonious. But Philip shares the good news by telling the eunuch about Jesus, sharing stories of Jesus’ historical ministry, his love for the poor, his death and resurrection, and then finally, how Jesus’ life can be seen in the whole of the salvation narrative. Sharing the good news is simply a matter of telling a good story.
Finally, the eunuch shows us the other requirement of faithful living – responding to the good news. For the eunuch, he hears the good news, and he immediately responds by asking for baptism. Our liturgy invites us into the same response every week. We come together as a community; we hear the word of God – those stories that make up the whole of the good news; and we are sent out into the community – to love and serve the Lord. Church is not just a place to come and feel good. Church is also a place to be so filled that your enthusiasm for the good news that sends you out into the world with the work God has given you to do.
This week, I invite you to take Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch with you out into the world. Perhaps you will work on your willingness to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit; perhaps you will allow yourself to say aloud those questions that you hide in the depths of your heart; perhaps you will share the holy stories of the faith with another; or perhaps you will patiently sit with someone who is struggling with their faith this week. Like Philip and the eunuch, who boldly go down to those baptismal waters, we too hold one another’s hands as we leave this space, facing the challenges of this world together. Amen.
[i] Paul W. Walaskay, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 457.
[ii] Walaskay, 457.
[iii] William Brosend, “Unless Someone Guides Me,” Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 15, May 10, 2000, 535.