As I mentioned yesterday, I’m still not sure if I’ll preach from Acts 8 or John 15 on Sunday. These weeks are fairly rare. Typically, after a first read of the Sunday lessons, I’m fairly certain what direction I’ll go. When it does happen that two texts are drawing me in, I’ll give them both a fair shake and for at least a couple of days, I’ll use resources dealing with both texts. As I’ve read through my resources on the Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, I’m realizing once again how absurd this story would have been in its original context. All of Acts 8 is fairly absurd, when it comes down to it.
Christ-followers are a tiny minority sect, in a minority, albeit it well respected, religion in the Roman Empire, and so it is no wonder than when things get dicey in Jerusalem, negative attention turns to the new-comers who talk about eating flesh and drinking blood. It doesn’t take long for the small cadre of Christ-followers to realize that they need to exit Jerusalem as quickly as possible. As they do, Luke tells us that they proclaimed the Good News everywhere they went. Luke uses Philip as an example, but you can imagine these stories happening again and again, all over the known world. Philip first finds himself in Samaria, the home of unclean, half-bloods. After sharing the Gospel, Philip sees the Holy Spirit poured out with power and might, and is amazed that God’s grace was grafting all sorts of people into the fold as the Spirit moved beyond Jerusalem and God’s chosen people.
The Spirit spoke to Philip again, and sent him down the dangerous wilderness road toward Gaza. There he met another outsider, perhaps an even stronger outsider than the Samaritans, a Eunuch from Ethiopia. This man knew something about sharp knives. He was intimately knowledgeable about pruning. His position in the Court of Candace was the result of his castration, men were chosen for high rank who could not be tempted to have physical relations with the queen. His status was certainly better as a eunuch than it would have been as a slave, but one wonders if the benefits outweighed the costs. Nonetheless, this man was, to use a crude metaphor, cut off within his own society and was even more outcast within his adopted religion of Judaism. As he returned from taking what little part he could in the Temple worship (see Deut 23.1), the Ethiopian Eunuch is grafted as a branch into to the vine of Christ.
Luke tells us that he went on his way rejoicing. Legend tells us that he returned to Ethiopia and converted others. History says that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as the strong presence of Christianity among the Nuba people came from somewhere. The Ethiopian Eunuch was unable to produce off spring, but because he was grafted into Christ, he went on to produce much fruit. It is certainly crude imagery, probably not suitable for the pulpit, but sometimes, when you’ve got two distinct texts dancing around in your brain, things like this happen.