Why stand in the way- Thursday, 3rd week of Eastertide – Acts 8:26-40
The eunuch in the narrative was of Ethiopian descent, that makes him the first African to be converted and while he is referred to as the eunuch five times in this passage we are not told his name. Clearly now, the Church was moving beyond Jerusalem and Judea. So what do we know about this first convert from Africa and what can we learn from this narrative?
The Eunuch is heading to Gaza, an important city on the Mediterranean coast. We are told that he has gone to Jerusalem to worship. It is most unlikely that he was a convert to Judaism and hence the man could be described as best as a seeker.
Since he was a eunuch, he would be under prohibitions from the Jewish Law. Deuteronomy 23:1 stipulated that since he was ‘half a man’, he would be unable to enter “the assembly of the Lord.” It is unfortunate that his sexual identity prevented him from worshiping God. Yet it is to him that Philip is sent, not stirred by Philips’ zeal to evangelize but prompted by and angel and the Holy Spirit. The message of Christ’s redeeming love must be shared with all irrespective of caste, creed or sexual orientation.
Socially and politically he was, as we would say, landed. He was a minister of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia in charge of her entire treasury. This would put him in a position of great power, influence and wealth; he was riding a chariot which in those days was the Mercedes Benz of the Roman roads.
There are three conversions stories that appear in rapid succession; the conversions of the Samaritans at the hands of Philip (8:12), the conversion of the eunuch also at the hand of Philip (8:38) and finally in the next chapter the conversion of Saul. We can see the great devotion of this deacon who goes above and beyond his calling to just serve at table; such was his zeal for the Lord that through him, the Lord works wonders.
When persecution broke out he did not hide, Philip simply shifted his tent and pitched it among a people whom the Jews despised. His openness and teaching made many believe. It was his openness to the voice of God through an angel that made him walk up to the eunuch, eventually baptising him.
So the question is why stand in the way? There are so many who seek the Lord and we allow our prejudice to stand in the way. People are in need of Christ’s message but we do not go to them even should an angel appear to us. We have labelled and judged categories of society as not deserving of God’s love
Imagine if Philip looked at the eunuch as we tend to do in India today, as someone that is despised and avoided. Perhaps if Philip had done that the Church would have lost its first known African convert. Cast, creed, sexual orientation, fashion choices, professions etc must not be a hindrance to the message of Christ. Philip was open and we are called to be the same in taking the good news to all. If you can’t, get out of the way.
Fr Warner D’Souza