Text for Today
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both 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 suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Sunday Note: Who Belongs?
The book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Bible contains a section that English translation, the New International Version, places under the heading:Exclusion from the Assembly. Eight verses of exclusions follow-- these are the people who do not belong to the people of God. These are the people who are not us. The first of these exclusions reads, "No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord" (Dt 23:1). The text continues, naming those born of a forbidden marriage down to the tenth generation, Ammonites, Moabites, descendants of those foreign enemies, descendants to the third generation of those born to OK foreigners.
The Bible has many, many threads of theology in it's vast recordings and varied genres of writing. It is the sacred text of humans encountering the Divine, and wrestling to put into words the implications of Divine encounter. Inspired is a beautiful word for the work of the Spirit and human creation of a text that draws us into the deepest questions of existence, even through Scripture that can be translated: He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 23:1 in the King James Version of the Bible...seriously)
Two of the threads that compete throughout the Scriptures are of Exclusion-- purity, holiness, chosen-ness-- and Belonging-- a God of all tribes and nations, forgiveness, blessing. When read flatly, meaning all parts of the Bible having equal weight and equally impacting our understanding of God and creation, the Bible is in an impossible argument with itself. Just as Deuteronomy says that those who have been made eunuchs cannot enter the assembly of God-- or more plainly, eunuchs are not a part of God's people, our story today shows Philip baptizing a eunuch-- the sign and seal of belonging to God and to God's people.
This is not the only instance. Acts 8-11 seems to be written as a direct challenge to exclusion itself.
The man Philip encounters along the road was reading from Isaiah 53. Philip explains to him the ways this ancient text was embodied by Jesus. If they read on just three more chapters, they would have come across this,
Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say,
"The Lord will surely exclude me from God's people."
And let not the eunuch complain,
"I am only a dry tree."
For this is what the Lord says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant--
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve God...
I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer."
Just as the words of Isaiah 53 would be embodied by Jesus and the story told by Philip, so too would the words of Isaiah 56 be embodied by this Ethiopian eunuch and the story continued to be told by us today.
The story of Divine encounter, of the people of God wrestling to put into words the implication of this encounter, is not flat. It is dynamic; it requires repentance-- rethinking everything in light of new revelation; it has been embodied for us to more fully know. And in Jesus, the Word made flesh, and in the Body of Christ, the people of God, we see the embodiment of expanding belonging. Deuteronomy does not have the last word.
So, dear reader, know that whatever your perceived impurities, whatever your doubts, whatever your background, whatever your family story, whatever your skin color, whatever your sexual orientation, whatever your gender expression, whatever your language, whatever your past failures, whatever your questions, whatever your limitations...
You belong to God. You belong to God's people. You belong.