Luke tells the resurrection of Jesus not as the end of the story, but as the climactic middle, which creates a new beginning, relaunching the story. Acts is like Luke part 2 : “A New Beginning” or “The First Christians.” It’s not just about God coming into our neighborhood as a human being. They divine dynamic continues with people like us – and us – dispersed into the world to disrupt the status quo with Christ’s radical message of suffering love, transformative grace, radical equality as children of God, and evangelistic empowerment. In this unfolding story, we see that the early church was messy and beautiful and tragic and hopeful…and God was there and God was faithful. Our lives are messy and beautiful and tragic and hopeful…and God is here and God is faithful.
We jump ahead to chapter 8 and the second of two stories about Philip. Having had an encounter with Samaritans (those who were just barely better than foreigners for the ancient Jews), he here encounters a traveling Ethiopian: the most exotic and foreign that you could get in terms of the Roman Empire. The story recalls to mind that of the Disciples on the Way to Emmaus (in Luke 24:13-35). Travelers encounter a stranger, who then reveals the life-changing truth of God’s salvation of the nations in Jesus and then who suddenly disappears when the original traveler’s eyes are opened. Here though it’s an Ethiopian eunuch who serves the line of queen (what the word Casandra means) in his native land (most likely northern Sudan, then called Nubia). Eunuchs were castrated males who were then entrusted with administration of the King’s harem or to be near the Queen. They were considered fringe people, almost a non-person, which is why they were not allowed to enter and worship in the Jewish Temple (Deuteronomy 23:1, Leviticus 21:18-20). He is both rejected by civilization and one of the elite of his culture [he’s the basically the queen’s finance minister].
Ethiopia was considered, in the Roman Empire, to be a nation at the end of the world, on the fringe of civilization. Dark Africans were commonly called “Ethiopians” in both Roman and Jewish culture, not in a racist way, but as a synonym for an exotic foreigner who was as different as one could be. His encounter with Philip, who proclaims the gospel story of Jesus, to which the eunuch responds by asking to be baptized seemed to be the fulfillment of the promise made by Jesus to his followers in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
- What strikes or shimmers for you in this passage ?
- If you were the eunuch, who lived life as a non-person, how would you have experienced reading Isaiah?; encountering Philip?; and Philip’s interpretation of the gospel good news? How would your vision of God change in this encounter?
- If you were Philip how would you have responded to this crazy experience?; Being sent into the desert to wait by a road in the heat of the day?; Meeting a foreign eunuch who just happens to be reading scripture?; Hearing the eunuch’s enthusiastic response and request to be baptized? How would your vision of God change in this encounter?
- How does your (our) vision of God change in this encounter? How does it change our expectation of the Church?; our vocation and calling to live as the Church of Jesus Christ in the world today?