An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
The entirety of the Acts of the Apostles can be thought of as an unfolding of Jesus’ proclamation to his disciples in its opening chapter, ‘you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). Though the message of Jesus’ resurrection was first proclaimed in Jerusalem, it was never meant to be contained as merely the good news for those first followers of Jesus. It was good news for all people, and as it spread it shattered every boundary of human construction.
The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8 demonstrates this point in an especially powerful way. For those who first heard this story, Ethiopia, which is over 2000 miles from Jerusalem, was likely the far reaches of the known world. The story is remarkable not only because of this man’s place of origin but also because of his sexual identity. As a eunuch this man would not have been permitted to worship in the Jerusalem Temple under Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 23:1). He was confined to the margins of established religious life as these early followers of Jesus understood it. But boundaries that separated are broken down as the very Spirit of God drives Philip to share the good news with this Ethiopian eunuch. As we see that this message is indeed to be shared with all people, we see too the immediacy of the message. Having heard the story of Jesus from Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch immediately asks to be baptized. ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ The answer, of course, is nothing, and so Philip immediately baptizes the eunuch. And then Philip was gone, mysteriously taken away by the Spirit. But that didn’t really matter, because Philip was not the focus; Jesus was. And having heard the story and received the gift of baptism, the Ethiopian eunuch ‘went on his way rejoicing’ and spread the good news of Jesus into his own land.
The gospel message continues to spread in our own day, with the same immediacy and the same boundary shattering energy as it did almost two thousand years ago. Though humans may build barriers to divide ourselves, we trust that the Holy Spirit works to break down divisions and bring us together. May God give us the grace, like Philip, to proclaim this message of love to all people in our own day.
Holy God, no one is excluded from your love, and your truth transforms minds of all who seek you: As your servant Philip was led to embrace the fullness of your salvation and to bring the stranger to Baptism, so give us all the grace to be heralds of the Gospel, proclaiming your love in Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for Philip, Deacon and Evangelist, Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006)