9 May 2019
The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza, the desert road.’ So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer. He was now on his way home; and as he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and meet that chariot.’ When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ ‘How can I’ he replied ‘unless I have someone to guide me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this:
Like a sheep that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a lamb that is dumb in front of its shearers,
like these he never opens his mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants,
since his life on earth has been cut short!
The eunuch turned to Philip and said, ‘Tell me, is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?’ Starting, therefore, with this text of scripture Philip proceeded to explain the Good News of Jesus to him.
Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?’ He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and Philip baptised him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found that he had reached Azotus and continued his journey proclaiming the Good News in every town as far as Caesarea.
Jesus said to the crowd:
‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.
‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
“Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route”
Heeding the call of Christ can be a lonely thing, a test of one’s faith. It’s not like planning a trip where you know the start and end of your journey, where you’d be staying, and what you’d be doing. When God sends us on a journey, He doesn’t tell you how the big picture is going to look like. It is only revealed to us one step at a time, and for the rest of the trip we are to put our whole trust in Him. If you are on a mission for God, or heeding His call to do something, be not afraid – you are in good company.
In today’s reading, we see that Philip was commanded by the angel of the Lord to “get up and head south”. There was no explanation as to what exactly he was to do there, where he was going to stay, even the end destination seemed a little vague: Philip was only asked to head down on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, but not necessarily that Gaza was his stop (we learn that he later ended up in Azotus, about 50km from Gaza). To compound the difficulty, he was commanded to take the desert route, a lonely, dusty, and hot route. Chances of meeting anyone else – zero. But God had other plans.
Along the way, Philip had an encounter with an Ethiopian. Not just any Ethiopian, but a court official, a eunuch in charge of the queen’s treasury. From the description, he appeared to be a learned and spiritual man, with people under his command. And the Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join up with that chariot”. What are the odds of such a chance encounter on a lonely desert road? Not only did Philip manage to catch up, but he was subsequently invited to sit with the Ethiopian to explain the meaning of the Scripture he was reading. As we learn, Philip ends up baptizing the Ethiopian, and the Ethiopian, filled with the glory of God’s love, continues on his way home, rejoicing and no doubt proclaiming the wonders of God Almighty.
To me, this tells us a few things: 1) when we are called to do something for God, it will more likely than not end up being a solitary task, or one that most people won’t understand; 2) when we follow the path God has laid out for us, we travel not with a map, but with faith, for half the time we won’t know what our journey will look like and what kind of obstacles we will meet; 3) it is not the destination, but the journey, the process, that counts. As an extension, we don’t have to wait till our final stop to do something wonderful for God, we can do it along the way; 4) God will place people along our path who will either help us or be in need of our help, and sometimes in the most unlikely of situations; 5) we may start our journey as we are, but our journey will inevitably change us, our experiences will enlighten us, as it did with the Ethiopian. So as before, it is the process of who we become that matters in the end; and 6) it doesn’t matter about race or religion, rich or poor, powerful or lowly, scholarly or not – there is no distinction in God’s eyes when it comes to God’s salvation through Christ Jesus. And God’s grace went with the Ethiopian who was eventually baptized.
We are all on this journey called life. Even if you have not found a specific calling, life itself is the journey. It may be a lonely one, or an unknown one, but today’s reading tells us that on this journey, God will present us with the opportunity to do something worthwhile, something that will make a positive difference to others, no matter how small. The question is, will we go and join up to meet with it as Philip did?
(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Father Almighty, we pray for the wisdom and enlightenment to recognize the opportunities in life that You have given us where we can make a positive difference. Help us to open up our minds and not doubt it, but in wholehearted faith, embrace it knowing that You will have a plan for it.
Thanksgiving: Father Almighty, we give You thanks for this journey called life. It can be a bumpy ride, but we thank you for the ups and downs and for the perseverance to carry on, one step at a time.