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.) 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.
I could spend my time expounding many traditional opinions here, but instead, I want to share two things that struck me when I was reading a number of commentaries around this passage.
The first was the observation by the Rev’d Dr Mona West (a Queer theologian) that the Ethiopian Eunuch passage shows us someone who like each of us, struggles to make sense of Scripture. I know there are many passages, chapters and books of the Bible that I struggle with and many where I cannot see where my place is in it. I am also aware that I am not alone in this, but that at any point in time there will be many people struggling with making sense of the Bible.
The second thing that struck me was a comment from a blog post by the Rev’d Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran priest. Nadia talked about the “tent of God” and how we become possessive over it when in actual fact it’s God’s Tent!
We don’t always feel that there is a comfortable fit between ourselves and Christianity, or ourselves and our local church, but maybe if we stopped and wondered if there were others who felt this discomfort even more acutely because of “x, y, z”. This means that some folk might not want to talk to them, sit with them, shake their hand, etc, etc, the list goes on. Maybe if we would recognise that the tent isn’t ours and that the passage about the Ethiopian Eunuch reminds us that we all have a place in the story of God, and that even when we wrestle with scripture the overarching message is always that God loves us we would maybe try and be more open and embracing of those we see as other, so that they stop being “the other”.
So I challenge you to look around and come alongside someone who is struggling with Scripture or where their place is in Scripture and remember that God’s Tent is bigger than we might be comfortable with and that offers us space to grow too.
Abundant and Overflowing God You have a place and a space For each of us in Your Story.
Help us to always remember That the tent is Yours And that the Gift of Grace You extended to us Is also extended to those We might not personally Be comfortable with.
With Your Spirit Enable us to be as open As the Ethiopian Eunuch Was to Your Word in Our lives.
Kirsty-Ann Mabbott is a Church Related Community Worker at St David’s Church in Wales and Bettws URC.