5/3/2015 5:19:33 PM
A reflection on Acts 8:26-40
There's something fantastical and boundary breaking by being part of the body of Christ.
Today's story in Acts comes at a time when the Christ movement starts to break out from Jerusalem. For the first 7 chapters, Acts is laser focused on how the early church grew and developed around the Temple. But then chapter 8 starts and the movement expands. Stephen is killed and everyone but the apostles flee the city. As these early disciples enter the surrounding areas, they begin to bring Jesus to new people and new groups. Philip meets the Samaritans, a religious and cultural group that shared much with the Jewish identity but disagreed with how (and where) God was worshipped, hear Christ's story. The cultural and religious boundaries between the Jews and the Samaritans are transcended by Jesus and many Samaritans become believers. Then Philip is told to take a long walk between Jerusalem and Gaza where he happens upon the Ethiopian Eunuch.
Up until the modern era, eunuch's served a variety of roles in the courts of kings and queens. They were viewed as "safe" since they wouldn't be able to produce offspring with women (or feel the need to). So eunuchs were given important roles, serving as generals, secretaries, and oversaw the money in the treasury. Even though eunuchs could be politically powerful, they were also viewed as outsiders. Eunuchs wouldn't be allowed to worship like others or participate in religious rituals that non-eunuchs found life giving and wonderful. The Ethiopian eunuch who goes to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem is a complete outsider. He wouldn't be welcomed to worship like everyone else and those living in Jerusalem view him with suspicion. There is a large cultural difference between the eunuch and Philip and, in many ways, they shouldn't interact at all. But they do. The Holy Spirit actually orders Philip to breakout of his own cultural story and interact with someone from a completely different background.
When Philip arrives at the eunuch's side, he finds the eunuch reading Isaiah 53 out loud. In these words pointing to the Suffering Servant, Philip hears and recognizes Jesus. And once Philip hears Jesus, he is compelled to tell the eunuch about him. Jesus' story breaks through the differences between these two. Their different cultures, nationality, and sexual identity doesn't interfere with the Spirit including both of them in Jesus' body. Once the eunuch is baptized, Philip is whisked away and Philip's journey continues. The Spirit continues to use disciples to breakdown social barriers and making the body of Christ bigger and more diverse than it was before. The Spirit doesn't seem interested in making sure we're all the same. The Spirit, instead, wants everyone to know that God loves them and Christ died for them. And that's a message that can't be contained by any one culture, nationality, race, or group.