It is one of the most compelling examples of Abba’s affection for the outcasts. It may not be what you think of first.
It is not the woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery.
It isn’t the story of the leper or the tax collector.
It isn’t about Samaritans.
It’s deeper in the dumpster.
It is the story of the Eunuch.
Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
29-30The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
31-33He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to slaughter,
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
since he’s been taken from the earth?
34-35The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
36-39As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.” –Acts 8:26-39 (The Message)
This story is often retold as the birth of the Ethiopian Church and thus, breaking down the racial wall of Christianity. All of this is very true and very important. The Eunuch took hold of his new found life and allowed God to use him to transform a nation.
But are we missing something a bit deeper?
Should we not take a closer look at the first individual ever to be evangelized?
Is there more than one mountain moved here?
If you are unaware, to be a eunuch meant that you were castrated at a young age. The purpose of this heinous practice was to create little male body guards for women of importance, removing the risk of a possible sexual affair.
To be a eunuch was to be a non-heterosexual. To be a eunuch was to be a sexual minority. It was an immutable characteristic that they had no choice in.
Now, having an idea of what a eunuch is, think about what it would be like for him, passing by a temple, hearing the Rabbi recite this:
“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1, ESV)
He was doomed from the start. It didn’t matter whether or not he had held the knife, he was uniquely disqualified from grace and salvation.
Yet he still searches.
Reading the passage of a sheep being lead to slaughter, a man with no descendants, one that was mocked for being different, was like reading his own biography.
Could this book be more than a guest list?
Could a eunuch really be beloved?
Once Phillip reaches the chariot, he asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. I imagine at this moment, the eunuch is experiencing an earth-shattering moment. It makes sense that he glances up, and utters, “help?”
After beginning a dialogue with Phillip, he gets to the heart of his question. One that, once answered, would define this man’s eternity.
Who is he talking about?
Why is his story so similar to mine?
Philip told him about Jesus of Nazareth.
Grace and love rained down on the eunuch as he began to grasp the reality of what Philip was saying. The King of Kings, Savior of sinners, Lover of the lost, was also rejected by the religious establishment. His father was not someone unfamiliar with pain.
During their trip, they passed a river, and the Eunuch, who I am sure was still struggling with what Deuteronomy said of him, asked Philip what was stopping him from being baptized. I can imagine him cringing, waiting to hear the haunting Old Testament words.
Brian McLaren gives a wonderful exegesis of this moment:
“Imagine what Philip might have said: “I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I’ll have to say no. Or at least not yet.”
But Philip doesn’t answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.
Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It’s only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us – although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it’s time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We’ve lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.” (http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/synchroblogging-on-sexuality.html)