Acts 8:26-40 The Ethiopian Eunuch

Ten years ago, I helped plan a campus ministry retreat that took its theme from the Ethiopian eunuch. We designed flyers and a very talented student, Marco Saavedra, gave us some beautiful art to print on t-shirts, and we all headed off to Turkey Run, Indiana to spend the weekend considering the eunuch’s words “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me.” We wanted to investigate learning in community, and how relationships make things understandable, but also makes them matter. Why do we care about the things we care about? Why do we get interested in a given topic and spend time investigating it? Usually it’s because some teacher is engaged in the same questions that bother us, and is passionate about finding good ways to ask those questions, sit with them, and seek answers. My life was changed by a class I took in college called Exile and Pilgrimage, because the professor, Don Rogan, was asking the exact same questions that I was, and even though it was a Religious Studies course, he was willing to go far outside the realm of religion while seeking answers. He had an openness to all sorts of people and voices, and the greatest thing he taught me was that such openness was possible, and that it was a gift.

I don’t remember the content of that weekend with students at Turkey Run. I know that we had multiple workshops, led by the different campus ministries, and that we were open to being taught by each other without seeking the expertise of an outside speaker. The thing I really remember, though, is a long hike through the ravines with my own community of students. I remember that we joked a lot, and laughed a lot. That it was a bright Spring day. That we didn’t worry about getting lost or being back by any particular time. We had left the depth of conversation behind, and were simply enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company.  It’s not surprising that this is what I remember, rather than the content of the workshops. It was the community that mattered, and the joy of community was the primary teacher.

I think that the very small, temporary community that developed between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch had many of the same qualities. We know the eunuch’s question, and we know that Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus, but we don’t get the content of his teaching. This is a retelling of the story for the eunuch, but Luke doesn’t pause to retell it to us. His emphasis is different. He’s not interested in the content, but the mood of this retelling, the quality of the community that springs up between Philip and the eunuch. They seem to be having a jolly time, and their friendship is so spontaneous that it ends in baptism without much thought and no preplanning.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can emphasize the words in the eunuch’s question in all sorts of ways. We can put the emphasis on “understand,” or put it on “explains,” which would indicate that we care a lot about the content. But the story doesn’t give us the content, and seems to be putting the emphasis on “someone.” What’s important here is the person of Philip and the relationship that he has with the eunuch, the community that springs up between them during the retelling. The passage is more about a walk through a ravine then a workshop, more about joy and sunshine and laughter than about taking notes.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.