Acts 8:26-40

If you like evangelism, you’ll love Philip’s story. A Spirit-led meeting with a court official, who happens to be reading Isaiah 53 and asking the right questions; there is time to converse at leisure; there is water for baptism when required and requested.

The Ethiopian eunuch was a gentle God-fearer. He couldn’t have been a proselyte as eunuchs were disqualified. He had been to Jerusalem to worship Israel’s God, and he wouldn’t have been able to celebrate the festival. Physically unfit, ritually excluded; all that way and no entrance ticket was granted him upon arrival. He could have prayed at a distance but that was it. And yet Israel’s God still so captivates him that he is reading Isaiah on the way home.

There were two traditions of reading Isaiah 53 at the time. One saw the servant as the Messiah, but the sufferings were what he inflicted on the pagans. The other saw the servant as the righteous martyrs, but they weren’t Messiahs. Philip puts them together, and embodies the result, announcing to the eunuch that in Jesus Israel’s God has revealed his universal welcome, and showing him by his own welcome what that servant-love looks like. Suddenly, the Ethiopian’s physical, social and cultural exclusion is overturned. He is embraced by the God who is revealed in the crucified Jesus, and welcomed gladly by the evangelist who represents his master. And (of course) he goes on his way rejoicing.

The new symbols of the Messiah’s ministry – the empty cross, the empty tomb – speak of a different sort of cleansing, a dealing with sin and death (two of the main pollutants in the Temple system) once and for all, a free welcome of overflowing love for all who hear and receive; new life, new responsibilities, new power. If the Ethiopian Church is to be believed, the eunuch went home and established a church which lasts till this day.

(Adapted from Twelve Months of Sundays – Year B: Biblical meditations on the Christian Year, by Tom Wright, pages 63-3).

Blessings, Reverend Lyndon.

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