8th May. Thursday in Week 3 of Easter
First Reading: Acts 8:26-40
(On the road to Damascus, the persecutor Saul becomes a disciple of the Way.)
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
(A promise of life: “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”)
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.”
The Hitch-Hiker as Guide
Philip the deacon should be the patron saint of hitch-hikers, since his hitching a ride on the finance-minister’s chariot led to such a blessing for both of them: a truly win-win situation. In their faith-encounter, clearly God was already drawing the eunuch – who was royal treasurer to the Queen of Ethiopia – toward the Christian faith. Though he was castrated and a victim of exploitation in his youth,this man had risen above his misfortune to a position of wealth and influence. When Philip met him, the Ethiopian was already a “God-fearer,” a devout gentile who believed in Israel’s God and largely followed the Jewish way of life. He carefully studied the Jewish Scriptures and was now reading Isaiah and the Suffering Servant Songs. When he met Philip the hitch-hiker and offered him a lift in his chariot, divine providence was clearly at work, because the passenger became guide to the one in the driving seat.
“Do you understand that text you are reading?” asked Philip, and when the eunuch asks for his guidance, Philip explains the meaning of the Suffering Servant in reference to Jesus and his death on the cross. At this, the devout Ethiopian asks for baptism and Philip baptises him into the faith. Through this encounter the man’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem became the start of a lifetime’s journey with Christ, to the kingdom of God.
Our life too can also be lived as a pilgrimage of faith where the Bible and its living interpreters serve as our spiritual guides. We learn from the Ethiopian’s patience as he waited for light to dawn on him. While baffled by the pathos of the Suffering Servant story (Isaiah 53) he stayed with that text and waited for the Lord to speak its meaning to him. His joy at Philip’s explanation was matched by Philip’s joy at the man’s conversion. A similar ministry is open to all active church members, to accompany outsiders in their search for God. Philip was impelled to head south and catch up with that carriage. There must be an ongoing missionary impulse in the church, offering gentle initiatives that invite others to examine their purpose in life: “Do you really grasp it?” – and when opportunity offers, to share the good news of Jesus. We may take it that in his turn, the Ethiopian went back to his people as an apostle of the good news: what Philip had shared with him, he would share with others.
In the gospel Jesus tells us: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread that one shall live forever.” Strengthened by that bread, each of us has a precious gift to share with others, on our journey of life.