I find good directives from the reading from Acts today relative to how I am to proclaim the Good News, how I am to evangelize. Before beginning, I need to add this is a very difficult area for me, proclaiming the Good News. As a Gen-X’er, I was socialized to accept everyone and everything and to not push my beliefs on anyone else. By the time I got to graduate school, this socialization moved to a rationalization that people will “see” my faith in my good works and so I do not need to verbally share my faith with others. So, talking about my faith, especially when I am unsure about the faith of the other, is challenging for me.
But the Acts of the Apostles give me a model for sharing my faith. Biblical commentaries point out how Philip was speaking with an Ethiopian eunuch, showing how far evangelization was spreading beyond Jews and beyond any particular culture. But, for me, living in Nebraska in 2006, what I find most critical is that Philip is sharing his faith with someone who is genuinely interested and open to conversation. Philip’s first words to the eunuch are a question, “Do you understand?” To this the eunuch replies with his own question, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” This glimpse reveals that the conversation is to be about faith seeking understanding! The eunuch obviously has faith for he is reading Isaiah and he has just come from going to the temple in Jerusalem. Yet, the eunuch does not claim to have the answers. He does not claim to know. He does not appear to be interested in debating or he would not ask for someone to instruct him. According to the account we read, he asks Philip many questions and is open to what Philip has to say. We read that the eunuch, moved by faith, even asks if he can be baptized. It was not the other way around.
This is how the church suggests we share the good news, how we evangelize. We are to share ourselves when we encounter people, times, and situations where we see openness in others, where we encounter people who genuinely want to converse and ask questions. Indeed, we are even instructed to not debate others regarding matters of faith as that quickly turns from faith seeking understanding into people wanting to win, to argue more eloquently, to prove another’s views as lesser than one’s own. This is not the Holy Spirit building humanity up. This is divisiveness in the name of religion.
I have to add an important caveat by sharing that many, many times, I feel more like the eunuch! I love our faith and I love all that I learn and experience in my faith. But, so many times I face my own limitations and I yearn to understand what I cannot understand. An oddity of this reading is how it starts and ends. It begins with Philip being literally instructed by an angel to catch up with the chariot and talk with the eunuch. And, the passage ends with Philip disappearing in the middle of the baptism! So, if I am the eunuch, my experience is one of God giving me exactly what I need exactly when I need and can make best use of it. Wow – how amazingly affirming! And, just as I can know when to share my faith with others, I can also rely on God to give me others who will answer my questions in a spirit of giving and openness to me as a human being.
Maybe next time I have an opportunity to say a bit more as tied to my faith, I will. Maybe next time I feel safe and comfortable, I will seek out more earnestly what the other in my life can give me as I seek to deepen and understand my faith.
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