26th April. Thursday of the 3rd Week of Easter
Acts 8:26ff. The Ethiopian eunuch hears Philip explain the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah speaks.
John 6:44ff. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Steps in a Conversion
Our heavenly Father was already drawing the Ethiopian eunuch to faith before ever he met with Philip on the road. This foreigner, the royal treasurer to Queen Candace, was already a “God-fearer,” the term given for gentiles who believed in Yahweh, the God of Israel, and tried to follow many of the Torah laws. The Spirit of Yahweh was attracting the Ethiopian ever more deeply into the religion of Israel through his reading of the prophet Isaiah and in particular the Songs of the Suffering Servant.
God also directed the deacon Philip to head south along the same route taken by the Ethiopian. In many ways then God’s plans were converging upon the Ethiopian. Yet, something was still lacking and the Ethiopian felt helpless. “Do you really grasp what you are reading?” “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Philip then explained the meaning of the Suffering Servant Song: Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, like a lamb before its shearer he was silent … Who will ever speak of his posterity? After Philip read the passage in terms of Jesus and contemplated with the Ethiopian the profound sense of the passage through Jesus’ death on the cross, the God-fearer asked to be baptized and Philip at once admitted him to the church.
We observe here the steps of conversion, not only from sin to grace, nor simply from an outsider to membership within the church, but also from an opportunity of grace to its full realization. First, we should trust that God is always drawing us closer to Himself. In each moment of our lives God is summoning us from hate and resentment to love and joy, from fear to peace, from isolation to companionship, from sin to grace, from being “good” to being “much better.” We must trust that others too are being attracted by God to a better and holier way of life and attitude. Like the Ethiopian we must be “God-fearers,” full of wonder at what God is doing in our lives. Like this foreigner, we should regularly join in community worship, as he did at the Jerusalem temple.
The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah Chapter 53. It is important to note that he was pondering a passage, unsure of what the words were saying to him. He waited for the Lord to speak. Another corresponding pilgrimage must be made, by the church toward those outside, who are being attracted by the heavenly Father. Deacon Philip was told to “head south … catch up with that carriage.” There must be a missionary drive within the church, taking the initiative, asking “Do you grasp what God is saying?”
When these pilgrimages come together, a person is ready to be received into the Church. The Ethiopian asked for baptism, the door to the community of Jesus. This door, however, swings back and forth. It leads the Ethiopian into the Church but it also invites him to go forth as an apostle of the good news. Deacon Philip disappears and the foreigner continues on his journey home to bring the good news to his own country.
First Reading: Acts 8:26-40
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward 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 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.
Gospel: John 6:44-51
No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”