The first scripture reading for today presents us with an unlikely scene. The Ethiopian eunuch is seated in his chariot while traveling home from Jerusalem. And as he journeys he is reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. As we subsequently learn, he is reading without understanding the meaning of what he is reading. When I thought about this scene it struck me as strange. Today I can't think of anyone who, while going on a journey, would pass the time on a plane or train by reading a book that they couldn't understand. Obviously the next question is why was the eunuch reading Isaiah of all things?
St. Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, tell us that the eunuch had made the trip to Jerusalem to worship. Somehow he had heard about the one true God and that the great temple at Jerusalem was the most sacred place to worship God. Since he was a very important and powerful man in Ethiopia, he was able to arrange to journey to Jerusalem to see the temple and to worship there. He must have been very impressed with the temple and sincerely worshipped there. During his stay at the temple, the eunuch had obtained a copy of the prophecies of Isaiah the prophet. He began to read the prophecies on his homeward journey, but since he was not familiar with the writings and customs of the Jews, he was unable to understand the meaning of the text. But he seems to have had a sincere desire to know and understand the book of Isaiah.
At this point God intervened to help the eunuch. He sends an angel to direct Philip to rendezvous with the eunuch on the Gaza road. Philip was one of the seven deacons who were chosen to help the apostles in their evangelizing work. Next we see the Spirit at work, directing Philip to the chariot to converse with the eunuch. The Spirit is also at work in the eunuch and he willingly asks Philip to join him in the chariot and to explain the meaning of the text he is reading. As it happens, the eunuch is reading one of Isaiah's great prophecies about the coming of the savior. Philip explains the prophecy and uses this passage as a point of departure for explaining the life of Jesus and his teaching and preaching to the eunuch.
The thing that strikes me about this reading is the willingness of the eunuch to believe. Sitting with Philip in his chariot he is a very eager listener to the story of Jesus. After an initial question he was content to listen and learn. When they came to the water, the eunuch eagerly asked to be baptized, and Philip baptized him. The eunuch embraced the faith and became a follower of Jesus.
The story of the eunuch ends as strangely as it began. After they came out of the water Philip just disappeared and the eunuch never saw him again. St. Luke tells us that the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away and that he went to a town called Azotus where he continued to preach the good news. The eunuch continued on his journey home and he rejoiced as he went. He rejoiced to know and follow Jesus. He is a convert and follower of Jesus, and we can be sure that he told his family, friends and acquaintances in Ethiopia about Jesus.
This scripture story, coming early in the Acts of the Apostles, is one of the first examples of the missionary work of the apostles among the gentiles. As such, this story is a precursor of the spread of the faith to all of us.
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