An Angel and Evangelist and a Eunuch

Just a semi-short blog about a passage in Acts that sort of stands out a bit…in Acts 8:26-40 there is an interesting story about the evangelist Philip being told by “The Angel of the Lord” (same guy who gave a shout out to Mary and the shepherd etc.) to head down to a desert road and hang out…as he does so he comes upon a chariot and then the Spirit (first the Angel of the Lord then the Spirit, seems like its a pretty important assignment) tells him to join up to the chariot.

When Philip gets near enough he hears the guy reading the passage about the suffering servant and manages to strike up a conversation and explain the gospel as he does.

Now there are some very interesting colors in this quaint non-christmassy (sort of) story that bear a striking resemblance to a lot of the birth narratives we find in Luke and Matthew…first the guy is a foreigner who is returning from Jerusalem where he went to worship…think about this a minute…the text says he is a eunuch, and he is returning from worshiping at the center of developed religion…here maybe a text from the official ┬árules of who is in and who is out might help put it in perspective:

“He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the Lord”-Duet. 23:1

Ummm…okey dokey Mo, thanks for that…but lets not assume this is only a Jewish rule, the Qumran (according to Josephus and Philo) has this comment: “The Law…excludes from the sacred assembly all who are unworthy, beginning with the men…who falsify the distinctive mark bestowed on them by nature”

Or how about this gem from the satirist Lucian of Samosata:

“Such half men ought to be excluded from all participation in sacred things and all public assemblies and associations”

Here’s my point whoever this guy is he is a eunuch and in that culture this is not exactly a position of honor, even though he has attained to a special status as financial director for the Queen Mother of Ethiopia (which is a lot like England’s queen mothers position)…

See the texture start to converge a little here… rejected, non-accepted in religious faith of choice, societal pariah, yet searching in the desert and hearing something in the text that makes him wonder, “Is this about Isaiah or someone else?”…rejected despised of men…

Think about it a minute, the scriptures have basically said this guy is not allowed into the assembly of the faith…does this sound like anyone in our culture? Someone who’s sexuality has prohibited them from being accepted in the assembly of the Lord?

Without disparaging the current LGBTQ community this particular text does seem to be focused on a segment of society that religion and even politics have shut out…the Jewish text is quite clear this guy is NOT allowed into the community of the Lord, yet the Angel of the Lord and the Spirit BOTH demand that Philip go and JOIN this chariot and help him understand the gospel INCLUDES him…and this important story makes it clear that God seems to feel a need to send his brightest and best specifically to find this person because society and even the text has excluded him…sort of…if the guy manages to read on a few chapters further he will find out that God has a special place WITHIN HIS WALLS, IN HIS HOUSE A PLACE AND A NAME BETTER THAN SONS OR DAUGHTERS (Isaiah 56:4-5)

The story goes on to say they come upon water (how did it get there in the desert?)…

…and the eunuch asks to be baptized (verse 37 about “believing” is not in most original text but is in almost all the Latin versions let the reader understand)…somehow the gospel narrative has made it far enough to explain how one joins the community and Philip does not hesitate to let this guy join, no rules, no change no need to “heal his sexuality”…

And a new member of the community is recognized and accepted and then Philip is carted off by the Spirit to go preach to “the uttermost”…

Here’s my main point, this story with all of the supernatural influence, the Angel of the Lord, the Spirit telling Philip to get to the chariot, the trans-location at the end, etc…all of this points to something very deeply inclusive because it stands out in spite of the homogeneous Jewish-Christian narrative that Luke tries to paint in the book of Acts, it actually stands some of that on it’s ear because of how inclusive it shows the new community of faith to be.

Someone outlawed by the religious text from joining and being part of the community, someone outcast from social influence and basically without any voting rights because of his sexuality, a segment of society that is feared and misunderstood ONLY because of societies focus on perceived sexual wholeness, to this person the Angel of the Lord sends its best evangelist, to this person the Spirit of the Lord demands he join with, to this person baptism and inclusion into the faith is offered without hesitation…THIS is the gospel…and it’s right there in the text.

One final thought…it is here that we finally find a base-line in the historical text that says the gospel is finally going out into the “uttermost parts of the earth” it is when we start including those whom we think the text has excluded and it is accepting them that we finally start exploring where God has wanted us to go all along…

 

As usual your mileage may vary…Peace Goodwill to men all of ’em…

-M