Sometimes it’s the smallest, most simple act that brings about the most profound change. It is easy to read Acts 21 simply as an aside in Paul’s larger story. His ministry to the gentiles and his journey to Jerusalem seem to be the narrative that grabs our attention. In fact, lectionary readings (those resources the larger church uses to guide us through teaching and preaching most of the Bible in a three year period) skips this scene. But there is actually a lot Philip can teach us about our day to day commitment to the gospel at our local level. Is there truly any insignificant service on behalf of Christ? Continue reading
Our text for Sunday is a rich story with numerous applications. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch signifies for the first time, the gospel message reaching acceptance at the ends of the earth. The Eunuch’s status is also informative. While wealthy and holding a position of power, he is also seen as strange and an outsider, having been robbed of his identity as a male and his ability to leave a family legacy. So, when he is found reading from a text in Isaiah (the suffering servant), it’s a text with which he can also identify. Jewish law excludes the Ethiopian Eunuch from full embrace within the Jewish faith precisely because the Ethiopian is a foreigner and because he is a Eunuch (Deuteronomy 23:1). But Isaiah 53, which the Eunuch is reading, along with the gospel message of Christ that Philip presents, signals that Jesus has opened the door for all creation to know and follow God. If Isaiah 53 isn’t direct enough, just a few chapters later, Isaiah 56 really points to a future time when foreigners and eunuchs will be included in God’s kingdom:
“Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” – Isaiah 56:1-8
The focus on this Sunday’s lesson is not from the perspective of the eunuch but from Philip. Philip is willing to share good news with anyone with whom he shares the journey. First, he proclaims the gospel to the unruly neighbors to the north – the Samaritans. God’s Spirit does the rest. Then, he obediently journeys into the desert in the middle of the day (who does that?) And finds an exotic foreigner reading texts from a faith community that excludes his kind. Once again, God is at work.
So, the question for this Sunday shouldn’t be “to whom have I been sent?” Rather, might we ask “to whom have I not been sent?” The answer – everyone, of course! God doesn’t exclude. We should be looking for holy moments throughout our day to share good news with whomever we cross paths. This includes people who are like us and people who are different. After all, “red and yellow, black and white, they are (all) precious in his sight.”
For further reflection, I recommend the following short blogs: