“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Text: Acts 8:26-39
“Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
“The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”
The Ethiopian figure is a curious one. He appears to be at least a God-fearer, since he’s on his way back from Jerusalem and reading the prophet Isaiah. Maybe he’s someone who’s devoted himself to following the Judean God as best he can. But this Ethiopian can never be granted full access to Judaism or the temple—not because he’s of a different ethnicity, not because he doesn’t understand scripture (we’d all be in trouble if that was the case), not because he’s a foreigner. It’s because he’s a eunuch.
Because of his sexual status, the law in Deuteronomy explicitly forbids him from ever being a full member of the assembly in temple. “His kind” were not welcome in the house of God. He is forever an outcast because of his sexual status.
That makes Philip’s work that much more important. On the one hand, Philip doesn’t acknowledge the Ethiopian’s sexual status. But on the other, neither is his sexual status a barrier. The answer to the question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” is a total and emphatic, “Nothing!” Not even being a eunuch, a sexual outcast, prevents the Ethiopian from receiving the full grace of God.
Church tradition says that this Ethiopian eunuch, named Simeon Bachos, returned to his home country to preach the good news of Jesus Christ that Philip had taught him. His sexual status, which once prevented him from being a full participant in his faith, is no longer a barrier to being an apostle, a leader, a preacher.
Sex and sexuality continue to be hot topics of discussion in the church. While we anticipate a clergy shortage, we still have a significant number of non-heterosexual and transgender pastors unable to find calls, as well as women and people of color. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch is a reminder and a sign of hope that we too can grow in our understanding of the gifts of all God’s people, whether they are like us or not.
Let us pray: All-encompassing God, when your people said ‘no’ to the Ethiopian eunuch, you said ‘yes’, choosing him to be an apostle to his people regardless of his sexual status. Lift up those whose sexuality and gender differ from our own, whatever that may be, and tear down the barriers that separate us, that we all may work together for the sake of your Gospel. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.