Reading from the Commemoration of James Theodore Holly (alt. date)
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south* to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So 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 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now 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.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As 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?’* 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip* baptized him. 39When 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. Acts 8:26-39
Sometimes we all need a little help. I've had times in my life where I've felt like I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out something, being too stubborn to ask for help with what I thought I should be able to figure out on my own but couldn't. In the end, it took someone else who could not just solve the problem but tell me how and why that solution worked.
The Ethiopian eunuch needed some of that help. As the overseer of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia, he was undoubtedly an educated man and evidently multilingual in both speech and text. He was puzzled by the passage in the book of Isaiah (53:7-8) and, as is often the case, someone came along to shed light on the problem. Philip, a deacon and evangelist, followed instructions from an angel and the Spirit to go south along a certain road and there he heard the Ethiopian reading. When asked about his understanding, the Ethiopian admitted he needed help so Philip joined him in the chariot and began to explain the prophecy as it applied to Jesus. As a result, the eunuch asked for and received baptism from Philip before Philip was whisked off and the Ethiopian resumed his journey home.
We, like the eunuch, can read scripture and not always understand what it means. We can have our own ideas or understandings we gained listening to sermons and Bible studies. Sometimes we read or hear something that challenges the way we understand a particular passage and it can confuse us. There are times we reject the challenge out of hand, but sometimes it makes us dig deeper and in new directions, showing us a new way of seeing that we hadn't considered before. The eunuch was open to receive what Philip showed him and it changed his way of thinking and understanding.
It isn't always necessary to accept a new way of thinking or new interpretation, but I think it is important to give it fair consideration. Should we reject it simply because it's not the way we've always heard it or believed it? Is it out of the question because we've never heard or done it that way before? Is it a message that takes us forward or backward? Does it build the kingdom of God or tear it down? Who is our teacher and to whom should we listen?
Everyone needs help at some point in time. In a time and culture where individualism is stressed and everyone is supposed to be self-sufficient, able to solve their own problems without outside assistance. Of course, it isn't that way at all, but we try to maintain the façade because that is what is expected of us. Sometimes it takes a healthy dose of humility to ask for help when we need it, and humility is a rather unpopular virtue in this day and age. When we do bring ourselves to ask for help or guidance, we run the risk of rejection which is something none of us ever really wants. On the other hand, though, we may open the door to a new understanding or new skill, and we have given someone the opportunity to be the teacher, to share their own wisdom and show us a different way of solving a problem we couldn't solve on our own.
When we ask God for help in understanding, sometimes we find someone has been placed in our path who will give us just what it was that we need. For the eunuch, it was Philip. For us, it could be a priest or pastor, a co-worker, a good friend, a family member or a total stranger. The thing is, as we journey along our everyday lives, we may encounter a Philip who will give us an answer to a question that perhaps we didn't know we had.
Today I need to be open to the Philips I meet, people who may in some way make me see and understand things differently than before. I may not ask for or even know I need that answer, but it will be there if I am paying attention.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, November 8, 2014.