The latter part of Acts 8 provides us the conversion narrative of the Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch is an important figure in the Queen of Ethiopia’s court. It is likely that the conversion of the eunuch became a significant story in the early Christian tradition because of the eunuch’s status, and because the conversion of the eunuch served as a symbol for the extensive reach of the gospel.
The eunuch was traveling back from Jerusalem where it is said that the eunuch went to worship. We assume that the eunuch was a proselyte (a gentile “God fearer” as they are referred to in Acts). The participation the eunuch had with Judaism was limited because of the eunuch’s genital mutilation. The Law of Moses forbade eunuchs from entering the assembly of the Lord. Therefore the eunuch was a marginalized member of the worshipping community.
Even though marginalized the eunuch was devout. The author of Acts says that while riding back from Jerusalem in his chariot the eunuch was reading out loud from the book of Isaiah. Meanwhile, twice, the Christian evangelist Phillip was supernaturally prodded (once by an ‘angel’ and once by the ‘Spirit’) to come alongside the eunuch at this precise moment. Phillip heard the eunuch reading and seized the opportunity to ask the eunuch if he understood the prophet. The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” The response of the eunuch is telling. Those who say that the task of biblical interpretation is a simple matter of reading and reasoning find no support in the experience of the Ethiopian eunuch who was lost without a teacher.
The eunuch was reading from the so called ‘servant songs’ in the portion of Isaiah’s text that scholars refer to as 2nd Isaiah (i.e. Isaiah 40-55). The song quoted was from Isaiah 53 and is the most famous of the servant songs. It describes one who “Like a sheep…[is] led to the slaughter, and…in…humiliation [is] denied justice.” The eunuch asked who it was that the prophet was speaking of. Phillip began a long interpretative tradition by claiming the prophet was speaking of Jesus.
After his education in the ‘Way’ (Acts name for the new Christian movement) the eunuch spied water along the road and asked for Christian baptism. Phillip went down into the water with the eunuch and baptized him. Immediately the Spirit took Phillip away to work another mission field.
The fifth Sunday of the season of Easter sees us return to the Psalm of Good Friday! Psalm 22 begins with the famous lament quoted by Jesus on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The section of Psalm 22 that is our reading this week, however, sounds a different tone. This part of psalm 22 celebrates a God who is the deliverance of all (including the poor, the nations, and people not yet born). It gives a benediction (“May your hearts live forever!”) to those who seek God, making this psalm an appropriate response to our lesson from Acts. At the heart of the psalm’s message is the inevitability of the recognition of God’s sovereignty. The psalm that begins in bitter lament ends in unequivocal certainty of God’s pre-ordained future. The world will bow before the creator, of this the psalmist is certain.
1 John 4:7-21
The Johannine community (i.e. the community that produced and was the first audience for the gospel of John and the letters of John) was a community with wounds. The recent split with their siblings Jews in the synagogue had left them a marginalized group in a hostile world. Their battles with other Jesus traditions that differed in important matters of Christology (e.g. those that preached a docetic Christ for instance) had left them battle warn. These internal and external skirmishes and the wounds they inflicted led the community to reflect deeply on Christian love. 1 John claims that love is the identifying characteristic of the Christian, and that in showing love the Christian proves that God abides in them. Conversely those that say they love God, and those that claim God abides in them but do not have love for their brothers and sisters must be liars. Love of neighbor and love of God are inseparably linked.
Abiding in Jesus (or Jesus abiding in the Christian) is also the subject matter of our gospel lection. Jesus uses the image of grape vines and branches to illustrate his connection with his disciples. Jesus is the true vine, and Jesus’ followers are the branches. God is the vinegrower who cuts out the branches that produce no fruit and who prunes the remaining branches to increase their yield. As the true vine Jesus is the source of all life to the branches. Without the vine the branches can do nothing. Without the vine the branches wither and die. Therefore the fruit produced by the branches brings glory not the branches but to God who is the source.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the fruit you see produced in your own life. Is God glorified in your life? Do you feel the abiding presence of Christ in your love for your siblings and in the fruit you bear. Are you listening to the supernatural leadings of the Spirit to enter the presence of the marginalized and show Christ to those who need a guide?