This question was asked of Phillip, one of the first groups of people named as a deacon in the early church. The man who asked Phillip this question was a man from Ethiopia, who was a eunuch. There were at least two good reasons why Phillip could have answered his question in the negative. First of all, an Ethiopian was a gentile, a person the Jews could not and would not associate with. Secondly, he was a eunuch. As such he would be prohibited from worshipping in the assembly of the Lord.
So, by all the standards of his Jewish faith, customs, teaching, upbringing and general outlook on the world, Phillip should have had no dealings or association with the man from Ethiopia. And yet, he does. He not only associates with, listens to, and counsels him, he also baptizes him.
Phillip says to this man, and to us, that those who are not like us, don’t look like us, don’t share our cultural or political views, are from strange and foreign lands; all these people are children of God, worthy of our love and respect.
What does Phillip, the deacon and evangelist, have to say to us in the political and social environment we live in today, both in the United States and throughout the world? More than we can handle, I suspect. Many of us, in the fragile and combustible climate we live in, have decided we have had enough. We don’t want to associate or communicate with, accept, or listen to anyone who is not like us. We have lost, or are losing, our capacity for listening, accepting, caring, forgiving or loving those who are not like us. We simply don’t have the energy or heart to be present with, and for, those not like us.
I realize this touches on matters that many would call “political”, but I believe they are first and foremost matters touching at the heart of the Gospel. If our faith in Jesus Christ means anything, it means we look at the world and don’t first see the things that divide us. Rather we see a “new creation”. We see something/someone “new” because the resurrected Christ has drawn the world, and everything in it, to himself. And this resurrected Christ asks us to reach out and be connected—the fancy theological/church word is reconciled—to the people Christ places in our midst.
Phillip was an evangelist, which means he had a message. His message was the good news of Christ’s love and forgiveness. What he said and did flowed out from that message. As Christians, this is our message and we are called to listen, to care, to love and forgive each other. May we all, through the power of the Holy Spirit, strive to be Christ to each other, with no restrictions or conditions.
Blessings, grace and peace,
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee